The baby seal book club
Adrian Kinnaird's From Earth's End is the first solid reference point to a Kiwi literary scene that can be harder to pin down than a bag of live octopuses.
Independent New Zealand comics are not exactly hard to find, but in order to get hold of the good ones you have to know where to look. Kinnaird's anthology and guide contains all of this information, as well as a truckload of luscious pictures.
My first experience of comic books came when I discovered my father's stash of vintage Mad magazines when I was 10.
Imported from America, they were mostly published between 1973-1977, and included extensive cartoon spoofs of then-current films like Planet of the Apes and A Clockwork Orange.
There was Spy versus Spy; a whole strip about the kids from Snoopy growing up, dropping acid and going to festivals together; and a series of faux certificates entitling the bearer to join the Legion of Skateboard Heroism.
There's been an amazing crop of books come through this year, particularly in the field of poetry. I've managed to cover most of my favourites in this column - Sarah Broom's poetry collection Gleam and Elizabeth Knox's latest novel Wake stand out as the best - but I thought I'd round the year off by mentioning some of the best extras that didn't make it into full reviews of their own.
I've also included some of the worst books to cross my path this year. Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton published an excellent essay on elitism and the psychology of negative reviews through Metro this week, saying most one-star reviews on websites like Amazon and Goodreads boil down to three key complaints. These are: the book was confusing; the book was boring, or the book was badly written.
She expands further.
"'Confusing', 'boring' and 'bad' are fine complaints, and in many cases may be pertinent complaints, but they are not criticisms. They are three different ways of saying that the work in question failed to evoke any response from the reviewer at all. Far from describing and critiquing a literary encounter - the job of criticism - such "reviews" only make it clear that a literary encounter never took place."
For the most part, I agree with her. Most of the time when I dislike a book, the core problem is that the author is writing for a specific audience which just doesn't include me.
I thought I had the genre of "crazy space antics" pretty well covered before finding out about Alejandro Jodorowsky.
As it turns out, there's still a lot to learn. Chilean-born Jodorowsky is primarily known as a filmmaker - he got some press recently after Kanye West cited his surreal movie "The Holy Mountain" as a key inspiration for the Yeezus tour - but crucially, he also wrote a series of brilliant science fiction comic books.
The Guardian says Jodorowsky got into comics after his planned movie adaption of Frank Herbert's Dune failed. If it had worked out, the film would have been incredible - Jodorowsky rounded up French comics artist Moebius, Alien designer HR Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali and many other luminaries to work with him on it.
When the dream team burned through their budget too quickly and had to abandon the project, Jodorowsky and Moebius instead focused on creating a French-language graphic novel called The Incal. It took them 10 years to make, and was followed up by several sequels and a prequel called Before The Incal.
The best way to introduce The Incal's aesthetic to a modern audience is to say that it looks a lot like director Luc Besson's 1997 action film "The Fifth Element". This may not be entirely coincidental.
It's amazing the kind of details you notice when you take the time to look properly at your surroundings. Roald Dahl's quote from The Minpins says it all:
"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
The four fashion photographers behind Kiwi street style blog Four Eyes are particularly good at spotting magical people. For the last two and a half years, they've compiled a huge database full of images of people who manage to stand out from the crowd for their clothes and their attitude.
My favourite part of Alex Blanco, Chin Tay, Danny Simmons and Mino Kim's vision is that they aren't constrained by market considerations in the same way a fashion magazine's creative director would be, so there's no need for their images to fit in with the artificially homogenous world of commercial fashion photography.
Instead, Four Eyes are free to concentrate solely on clever clothing and interesting faces: older people, plus-size people, people from racially diverse backgrounds, op-shop divas, backstreet fashion designers and non-traditional beauties of both sexes all dominate their lenses.
Elizabeth Knox’s Wake is possibly the first of its kind – a supernatural horror story set in Tasman Bay.
Made famous by her 1998 novel The Vintner’s Luck, Knox has been steadily creating innovative and immersive novels infused with magical realism for more than 25 years. I found her after picking up 2003’s Daylight in the midst of a pre-Twilight teenage fascination with vampires, and then moved on to her excellent Dreamhunter and Dreamquake duo.
One of the most attractive aspects of Knox’s work, to me, is the way she manages to balance recognisably New Zealand settings and sensibilities with potent fantasy.
I’ve felt for a long time that one of the primary issues with the fantasy genre is that many popular writers seem to set their stories “everywhere and nowhere”. Authors like Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch and Tim Powers appear to downplay the need for an authentic sense of place in the alternative worlds they build, exchanging recognisable settings for what must feel like more freedom to run wild with supernatural or magical themes.
It’s easy to sympathise with the wish to set up an exciting story in a new world with no rules, especially when you’re living in sunny Nelson. In the lazy routine of the everyday, it’s easy to roll out of bed, brush your teeth, pat the cat and start the morning commute thinking that nothing too outrageous could be possible in this country.
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