November by Matt Fraction, Elsa Charretier, Matt Hollingsworth, and Kurt Ankeny.

Since it is the last day of November, I thought I would write about…well, you get the idea.

When I started reading this series of graphic novellas—one at a time at release—I was so confused. But I essentially thought this was Matt Fraction’s female-centric take on Criminal and Sin City if you mashed it together with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series.

The four novellas follow three characters over the same period that sees their city descend into madness. All four books alternate focus on the POV of one of the three characters, and primarily none of them are good people. I like the challenge that it is character-driven and represented in the experimental structure, which indicates Fraction’s voice. It’s like he approaches new books with structural challenges, then grows the story of that structural challenge. So there are 3 characters, and each intersects at particular points. In the first 3 books and then they wrap up in the fourth book.

What is structurally neat is that the page’s alternate panel counts. At a page turn, we get a character page with a massive panel count—usually as little as 8 panels to as many as 12 panels. This is followed by action or a pilot point that grows out of the character pages with fewer panel counts—five or six panels at most. The narration, hand-lettered by Kurt Ankeny, is also character-centric with different handwriting for each of the three characters—like they’re all writing their version of events to process and heal from this extreme situation.

That last part is often jarring. The handwriting can be hard to read, especially the cursive because it’s white lettering on black caption boxes. That always makes my eyes cross.


Since Fraction sticks with each character’s focus, he often retreads whole scenes and set pieces from each character’s POV and then follows each character off to the end of the book or their story. The retread struck me as needless but I understand why it was done that way. The structure demanded it, and this is a character story and is structured as such.

Elsa Charratier is a stellar storyteller. She’s very agile in that she can go from nine pages of 12-panel grids (volume 3) to a plot point of four panels and a cliffhanger before Fraction pulls us away from the plot point to a different point but related part of the character’s story. Her work with Matt Hollingsworth were characters in themselves, channeling Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books giving each character a unique color scheme to show that we’re moving from one POV to the next.

An example of the character grids transitioning to a plot point

It is an exciting series that doesn’t quite land and I would recommend you read it all in one sitting; otherwise, if you read one volume at a time, as I did with the first two volumes, you may wonder what the point is. The point is the structure to focus on character regardless of the story. The result is a one-of-a-kind character study.

Adventureman by Matt Fraction, Terry and Rachel Dodson, and Clayton Cowles.

I knew Matt Fraction had been working on this for a while with the Dodsons, but since he’s largely left the public internet and I completely missed this even came out. So when I saw the hardcover at my local comic book store, I was like: Wow, this came out?

It was, of course, a pleasant surprise. What I liked most about this was the size of the book. The hardcover, which you can’t tell here, is the size of a coffee table. It’s a coffee table book with widescreen pages that force you to look at all the fantastic Terry Dodson art.

Just look at the size of the pages. My favorite part of the series is the family dinners. The description of those pages recalls my family. We’re loud, constantly talking over each other, interrupting, and we’re all characters.

The other thing I kept gravitating to while thinking about the comics writers is how they’re like film directors. Morrison is kind of the modern equivalent of Stanley Kubrick; Fraction is like Tarantino because he loves to reference things from the past, Vaughan is like Spielberg because of his diverse interests and storytelling sensibilities are rooted in character. Paper Girls is very much an ETish story without budgetary constraints.

Adventureman is a fun callback to pulp adventure films and stories like Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, the Shadow, and Green Hornet mixed with a little bit of Lovecraft. It’s big and bombastic, and the pages reflect as such. Also, it’s not technically about a “man” it’s about a woman.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher.

I started reading this book to my four-year-old because he saw that one of the trades featured dinosaurs, so of course, he wanted to read it. After reading the whole thing, I couldn’t help but try to figure out why Vaughan is my favorite comic book writer.

It’s simplicity. BKV never tries to do something that is structurally from left-field. It’s also character: these girls are tough, and fall in love, just like adults. He makes these five 12-year-old girls like adults. They swear every page, and they stand up to boys. Just check out these pages—you know that these girls are badasses.

From Paper Girls #1
Inside cover from Paper Girls volume 4

He’s a master of the page turn and cliffhanger. I don’t think there’s anyone better at a cliffhanger than him—that is his actual selling point—he forces you to get the next issue in a way that no other writer in comics does nearly as well. How does he do it? He roots the cliffhanger in character, not the shock factor of something happening off-panel. He always teases that shocking thing in the panel that forces you to turn the page or get to the next issue. Here’s one of my favorites:

That comes down to two things: he’s great with working with the artists he collaborates with (Cliff Chiang—in this case), and he’s excellent with character, revealed in emotion and dialogue. He is proving that what makes Brian K. Vaughan great is simplicity. Less is more in comics, and Vaughan is the best at it. He’s not trying to wow you with crazy ideas (though they are pretty out there, just look at some of the characters in SAGA), or complete panel, plot structure like Fraction and Morrison that can sometimes alienate readers. Here are some of my favorite pages from the series. Including an example of interaction at the end of the series that doubles as a character difference showing growth for Mac. She is a little more careful with her attitude, which frequently gets her into trouble throughout the series.

From Paper Girls #30

BKV also has a keen eye for what works in comics as a cousin to film, and Chiang just nails it. Also from the last issue:

Go read the whole series.

Stoicism; or how Clark Kent was the key to getting through 2020.

From Superman/Wonder-Woman #4, written by Charles Soule with art by Tony Daniel

On December 28’s entry in the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, I noticed a disparity in quotations from Marcus Aurelius from Meditations Book 4, number 35. The quote at the top of the page in the Daily Stoic says:

“Everything last for a day, the one who remembers and the remembered.”

The entry shares the same quote on a placard on the sidewalk of Manhattan’s 41st Street’s Library Way. It as “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers, and that which is remembered.” (Italics are mine to show the difference.)

So I decided to pull out my copy of Meditations and went to Book 4, number 35, in which Gregory Hays translates the line as, “Everything transitory—the knower and the known.” (45)

This proves the Daily Stoic’s point for December 28. The translation is transitory. Everything differs, and “all of us, including Marcus—who is passed over by just as many pedestrians—last for just a day at most.” (Holiday, et al. 384)

So, I guess, make today a good one.

This time last year, we were down to one car. Now we have only one car. The kids have been home for four of the previous five weeks, and the tether to normalcy and the Adirondack Mountains is nearly gone. But in the last year, I’ve come to realize that an outgrowth of my Asperger’s Syndrome is not quite getting social cues, which represents mild-manners, sarcasm, social awkwardness. Combine that with an extrovert, and it makes for some weird and funny social situations.

Do you know who else is like that? Clark Kent.

Every time I think of Clark Kent, I see this clip from Superman: The Movie.

Then I think about Clark Kent, I see the original reason I wanted to become a journalist. When, in fact, I wanted to write books and comics. This was a representation of my awkwardness and High Functioning Autism. To understand people and cling to them, I was using this as an opportunity to understand them, and what better way than asking questions.

Also, M & D wanted me to find a real job because finding a creative writing career was not a steady idea.

Thirty years later, they’re still mostly right.

Still—Clark Kent is a Stoic. Just look at the panel at the top of this post. Writing for Clark / Superman is what helps him become more human. To care about people who are not him. At the end of the day, his physical gifts can’t really help him as a writer. Sure, being able to type fast is helpful, but it does not make a you a good writer. Because if there’s one thing that Superman and Clark get is the Stoic ideal is that we were made for each other–to help each other. Writing for him is the best way for him to identify with the people he fights for as Superman every day. He does it intentionally because it’s hard to be a human being and being Superman is just something he can do physically. Clark Kent is what makes Superman a good man.

Winter Reading

Suicide Woods by Benjamin Percy. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Percy, so I dug this collection. I liked some more than others, for obvious reasons. I finished it while doing Cal Newport’s Analogue Challenge. My favorite stories are below:

The Balloon, considering where we are now, hits a little too close to home for right now. But that’s what makes him so good. He can turn the contemporary moment into a horror story. Too bad right now it seems like everyone is living inside The Balloon or The Dead Lands prequel.

Some more marginalia from The Dummy—which I would teach if I was still teaching creative writing. Some day.

My favorite story of the bunch was the novella The Uncharted which I poured over while writing my novella. This book is why I love Percy’s work.

If you like it, you should check out his Skillshare class which is just like Thrill Me, but live, and he will critique your work. If you want a sneak peek at my novella check out the class.

Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Ned Hallowell and John J. Ratey, MD: I think it’s impossible to say how much this book was valuable to me over this winter, much more so than its predecessor Driven from Distraction. It gave me the concept of SPIN and SLIDE and so many other tools to harness my diagnosis which has been one year this season. A year ago I was diagnosed with ADD, Aspergers, Anxiety and Depression and Hallowell’s work has given me so many insights to help me this year. The battle with the diagnosis continues as it’s 38 years of misunderstanding but I’m confident that some day soon it’ll be a characteristic, a quirk, rather than a detriment. But I still have a lot of work to do moving forward.

The good news? I think my way through is in the memoir I’m writing now. I think that book is how I break through the resistance my diagnosis throws up.

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. I used to be intimidated by Fforde’s work because it just seems so much like The Human Library series I’ve been working on for the last five years. But I realized that after reading this book—it’s totally different. His work is more like Douglas Adams wrote a police procedural with literary characters. Mine is more like the Hughes Teen Films with literary characters (though not so suburban and white.) I read this on Kindle at night—and I really had to hold myself back from laughing out loud while Baby Girl was asleep in the Pack and Play right near my side of the bed. I read most of these books on Kindle because that is just how my reading life is right now.

You should check out his Instagrambecause it’s filled with beautiful black and white photographs of Wales. His website is a lot of fun. In fact , I definitely want this website to be somewhat like his in the future.

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. This book was recommended to me by Kelsey Wharton and I used it to write the first draft of my memoir. I found a lot of it to be overdoing it for my sensibility in terms of outlining a book. I’m more of a Neutral Plotter anyway. And this book is definitely for Lawful Plotters.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Meggan recommended this book to me and I thought it was great. I listened to it on Audiobook. A hilarious romance novel about a Fight Clubish group of baseball players who read romance novels to woo back their wives. And since there isn’t any baseball right now—much to this family’s chagrin—I loved this book. Definitely something off the beaten path for me and that’s why I always endeavor to read my wife’s recommendations because she’s so great at that sort of thing.

I did the Daily Stoic Read to Lead Challenge over the winter and rather than starting a commonplace notecard system, I just dedicated a notebook to reading. I ordered this notebook from Out of Print and started filling it with my notes on reading by theme and by book. Like below are the plot points for Undiscovered Country #1 by Scott Snyder, Charles Soule, and Giuseppe Camuncoli and company!

After the Comics Notes page there’s a collection on the theme of Parenthood and Dad Life. I like this because it blends together fiction and nonfiction and different authors and it gives me space to come up with new ideas. I believe Joe Hill does something similar.

Kids Books! One of my favorite things about being a dad who is a reader and writer is reading to my kids. It’s something we as a family deeply value. I loved Hattie and Hudson, Be Kind, and we started Squibbish (3-year-old son) with Little Feminist Book Club. It’s a great selection of books sent to us every month. His favorite is the Proudest Blue but I really dug Reading Beauty.

Obviously this was a long one. But I hope you find something you like. I find that I try to read at least one book in each of my principles (fatherhood, mental and physical health; on writing fiction and nonfiction, and–of course–comics. I hope you find something you like here!