Strange Animals / 2021 / #1: The Slow Rev

Sugar sugar / Weight-lifting / Take it easy / Duck dynasty

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So, I’m coming into the new year having just found out that I’m diabetic, and that this condition might’ve been behind at least some of my health issues late last year. In response, I’m going off sugar and all that stuff for a month, and my resolution to work on my health this year has been strengthened further.

Not the best news to begin a year with, but let’s be honest – something was going to give. I’ve been thinking about why I’ve been working so much for the last few years, when it a) makes the work less fun, b) makes my days more stressful and c) affects my health so badly. And I realised that I’ve been chasing after something for the last decade and a half – this desire to do what I want to do with my life and to do it well – that I didn’t realise that I’ve … sort of got there now. Sure, there’s always room to get better, and to push myself in new creative directions, but fundamentally, I’m where I wanted to be for the longest time, and it’s fine to rest a bit now.

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New this week:

Future State: Swamp Thing #1, by Ram V, Mike Perkins, June Chung, and me, edited by Alex R. Carr and Marquis Draper, from DC Comics.

Hellblazer and Swamp Thing were some of the earliest comics I read as an adult, as I made my way through the great Vertigo era of comics, so it’s quite cool to work on these books now, especially since I know what Ram has planned for the main series coming up right after the two Future State issues.

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Like I mentioned in my last newsletter, I spent the last week of 2020 blocking out 2021 in my worksheet. I had to shed a lot of books that I really wanted to do, and even more when I realised my health issues went deeper than I thought. So I aggressively stared at worksheets and figured out what I needed to let go of. Mostly, these were books that hadn’t begun production yet, but after those, I had to give up a couple of follow-up graphic novels and one or two mini-series, and those were as much of a wrench.

I’ve got my lettering slate down to 1,900 pages for the year, and that’s still hitting the higher side of where I wanted to be (I’d hoped for 1,600), but there’s enough of a buffer that I think I should be okay. If I’m not, we’ll see when it comes to that.

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This week’s reading:

  • Secret Warriors Vol. 1 – Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing – Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli et al: Starts my great reread of everything Hickman did for Marvel pre-Secret Wars. This volume is mostly setup. Clearly moving things into place before beginning the story. We'll see where it goes, but not much of anything by itself.

  • Fantastic Four: The Bridge – Jonathan Hickman, Sean Chen et al: Bit of fluff. Feels like one issue of story stretched to five. But you can see Hickman figuring out the characters here, especially the kids. The parallel universe stuff feels like a waste of space, but the Baxter building bits are enjoyable. Hickman’s clearly setting up the Council of Reeds, but doesn’t want to give too much away before he gets his actual run.

  • Secret Warriors Vol. 1 – God of Fear, God of War – Jonathan Hickman, Alessandro Vitti, Ed McGuiness et al: Still too much plotting and too little character for my taste, though the final issue picks up a bit. Not enjoying Vitti’s art much, and that’s especially thrown into relief by the McGuinness issue, which is a massive upgrade in terms of storytelling and expressiveness.

  • The Seeds – Ann Nocenti & David Aja: First read of the year that’s going to stay with me. A gorgeously human story, told with virtuosic art. I particularly love how it understands that a story’s strength can be in the tiny digressions and side-stories. I can’t wait to reread and peel back its layers.

  • X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl – Peter Milligan, Nick Dragotta, Laura Allred & Nate Piekos: Reread of an old favourite that still holds up. Milligan brings metafiction and a quirky humanity to Marvel's concept of death, treating it all like a comedy (Dr. Strange has haemorrhoids, death is a revolving door, all that stuff). Plus some groovy Dragotta art from when he was understudying Mike Allred.

  • Tender Is the Flesh – Agustina Bazterrica: An account of a soul-dead future that maps quite easily to the now. There's a lot to love about the concept and worldbuilding, but some of the writing is surprisingly slapdash, which might be down to the translation. Well worth a read, overall, particularly to get to the ending, which packs quite a wallop.

  • Piranesi – Susannah Clarke: A beautiful short novel about a man living alone in a labyrinth that is his entire world. An appropriate book for the time. Slight in its plot and conflicts, and the first half is better than the second half, but it is evocatively written, and with a genuinely fascinating central character, who belies the trope that “good” characters aren’t interesting.

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The writing and font design plans I had for 2021 are going to have to take a backseat while I work on myself. As I said above, I think I’ve earned the rest, and this obsessive need to make every hour of every day produce something is just detrimental.

I’d originally hoped to learn a few things in the coming year – maybe learn to play guitar and draw – but I’m officially taking the pressure off myself to do even that. It’s okay – 2022 exists and is inevitable.

I usually make goals at the beginning of the year, and hand-letter them on a piece of paper so I can cross each thing I finish. I generally only clear about half my goals, but that’s always okay, because it’s better than zero. No little piece of paper this year either, though. I’m letting myself off. I do hope I produce a font or two, or work out for 200 days as I usually try to. But I don’t need that at the back of my mind.

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I think I tweeted about this, but I don’t believe I wrote it up in the newsletter, but I’ve become a huge fan of the Disney animated series, DuckTales. No, not the one you watched as a kid, based on the Carl Barks comics (though I loved it when it showed on Indian tv in the early 90s). This is the new series, with David Tennant voicing Scrooge McDuck.

The thing about this show is that it creates a superhero-style shared universe with a century-long backstory, does it elegantly, while remaining an enjoyable episodic kids’ cartoon. Honestly, it’s like the writers looked at what Grant Morrison does, and then at what Dan Harmon does, and said, let’s do both of those, but for a Duck cartoon. There’s even a crossover event that takes place in all of three episodes that comics folk could learn a lot from.

I love this kind of adventure fiction that creates a past out of whole cloth and then uses that past for resonance – stuff like Shutter, which I’ve recommended in these pages, or Glory by the same writer (Joe Keatinge), or the works of the aforementioned Grant Morrison. There are also a ton of metafictional jokes of exactly the kind I like (in particular, watch out for the replacement credit sequences). Highly recommended.

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New year, new format. I figured out by the end of last year that one of the reasons I was often late was that I had the updates ready, but I didn’t have a central essay, and I’d delay sending it till I had one.

So the main change is going to be: one weekly edition of the newsletter with updates and little notes on things I find interesting, and whenever I have an essay ready, I’ll send it out without fixed scheduling.

Hope you folks have a great new year.