Everything is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna

Everything is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection by Paul Madonna was another random library pick up.  I knew nothing about the author/artist or the book until I saw it at the library at started “reading” it.  I was enthralled by this interesting blend of drawing and text from the start and finished it that day and promptly handed it over to my artist wife for her turn.  I love the art and enjoyed the quirky and melancholy reflection that goes with it.

For those, like me, not in the know:

Cover of "All Over Coffee"
Cover of All Over Coffee

All Over Coffee was created in September 2003. That November the strip was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and in February 2004 began running 4 days a week; 3 days in the daily Datebook section and Sundays in the Pink section. After a year and a half and 200 daily strips, the strips grew more complex, so went to Sundays only. All Over Coffee still runs in the large format one day a week in the Sunday Pink Section of the Chronicle, on SFGate.com, and The Rumpus. In 2007, after just over 300 published strips, City Lights Books published the first collection in a full color hardcover edition titled All Over Coffee, and in 2010 published the second collection, Everything is its own reward.

I have to agree with the blurb at Amazon:

Entertaining and moving, gorgeous to look at, Madonna’s work remains unique and unclassifiable.

The drawings are a wonderful mix of architecture, landscape and still life; melancholy, peaceful and meditative.  The stories and snippets are both philosophical and whimsical, both optimistic and stoic; with a touch of surreal perhaps.  It is just a perfect combination of art and literature, of text and illustration, to sit down with and get lost in; in a comfy chair or out in the city at a coffee shop.  It takes you to and makes you want to visit cities across the globe but also makes them seem fictional in some sense; a setting of the author’s creation rather than real places to visit and live.

Publishers Weekly:

Madonna captures snapshots in time as he explores the relationship between image and text, with a mixture of single- and multi-panel strips all presented vertically. Completely devoid of people but never of life, each panel revolves around a geographical setting, from recognizable landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to an anonymous block that’s so gorgeously rendered in Madonna’s precise yet fluid pen-and-ink style, it feels like it could be anywhere and everywhere. The integration of text—from snippets of fiction and autobiography to single sentences stretching across panels—is as deliberate as the pen strokes and ink washes, and as essential to grasping the complete picture. Though there are no conventional narrative arcs, Madonna continually revisits such themes as place and memory as he deconstructs the traditional storytelling elements in this “comic strip without the comic, whose main and only character [is] setting.”

Evan Karp at Litseen:

If you don’t know, the series establishes scene as the main character in images devoid of humans or cars. Often a cityscape of some sort, with lush architecture and mesmerizing details, the frames exude a stillness that is preternatural. In various ways, Madonna then incorporates text into the images—the only place that humans are manifested in this work. A combination of aphorisms, autobiographical stories, flash fiction, and thoughts—including both questions and answers, and even mini manifestos on the creative process—the words in the AOC series weave together a narrative as thrilling and revelatory and endless and humbling as an aimless walk through the city. And to read through each page is to occupy a space left for us to inhabit. Everything Is Its Own Reward is more than a book; it’s a life philosophy articulated by a beautiful body of work.

Laura Miler at Salon:

You don’t have to have lived in or loved San Francisco to fall under the spell of Madonna’s mysterious and largely unpeopled cityscapes. San Francisco isn’t the only place he draws with the miraculously exquisite attention on display here (Paris, Rome and Buenos Ares also appear) but something about the fog off the bay makes it particularly well suited to his dreamy and surprisingly emotional pen-and-ink images.

If you are interested in comics and drawing with a unique twist, or just fascinated by art and literature, I would recommend checking out Paul Madonna and All Over Coffee.  I plan to check out the other volumes and enjoy more of this unique talent.

Riding Invisible by Sandra Alonzo

I picked Riding Invisible by Sandra Alonzo up for a dollar at Half Price Books thinking my daughter or son might like it. I decided to read it myself and enjoyed it for the most part.

As a parent is was hard in a couple of ways. One, reading the voice of a teenage boy made me want to send my daughter to a convent!

Second, engaging with what it would be like to have a child with mental or emotional challenges, or different biochemistry in their brain, was difficult; both in the abstract and in the more personal sense. It is hard to think about the tough choices involved and the heartbreak that results. Thinking about my kids approaching their teenage years scares the dickens out of me (have I mentioned that?).

The diary format and handwritten, with illustrations, design added an interesting visual element.  For the most part of the Yancey’s voice and approach seem authentic and realistic even if there is a little suspension of disbelief required on occasion.

As others have noted, however, the somewhat crude and hormonal attitude of the lead character is off-putting no matter how accurate or realistic. Don’t think I will suggest my children read it just yet …

But this is a creative and engaging story that tackles some difficult subject with insight and compassion (with the added creativity of the diary format and illustrations by Nathan Huang).

The Journey of the Penguin by Emiliano Ponzi

If you are a literary nerd (I mean that in a good way, honest), a fan of publishers, or just fascinated by book illustration you will want to check out The Journey of the Penguin by Emiliano Ponzi:

To celebrate 80 years of Penguin Books, a charming picture book that tells the imagined story of the penguin who waddled his way into history as the symbol of a beloved publisher

A lonely Antarctic penguin, dreaming of adventure, sets off on a long swim north. Arriving at last in London in 1935, he encounters the chance of a lifetime: auditions are on to find the face of a brand new publishing house. The penguin wins, of course, and so begins an adventure that takes him on to New York and into the hearts of readers around the world.

In The Journey of the Penguin, award-winning graphic artist Emiliano Ponzi delivers a boldly illustrated, wildly imaginative, and terrifically fun story—told entirely through image—that brings to life the “dignified yet flippant” bird chosen eighty years ago by Allen Lane as the name and icon of his revolutionary publishing business. With cameo appearances by legendary Penguin authors including Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller, and Dorothy Parker, this exquisite, one-of-a-kind book celebrates the enduring appeal of storytelling.

The illustrations really are wonderful and the book sparks the imagination as the reader must tell the story in their own way based only on pictures rather than text.  There is a simplicity and elegance about the illustrations.  Yet, it is interesting how much action and emotion can be conveyed within that simplicity.

journey-of-the-penguin-picame-4

As I said, fans of Penguin Books, Ponzi, and/or publishing and illustration in general would enjoy this gem.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

OK, I will admit I have not been very good at keeping this site updated. I seem to have lost my motivation, my book blogging mojo if you will.  I have gotten out of the habit of writing regularly and, like exercise, once you are out of the habit it is easier to just keep putting it off.

But, I wanted to take a moment to bring to your attention a book that came my way The Fox and the Star.

From the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Hardcover Classics comes a beautifully illustrated fable about loss, friendship, and courage

The Fox and the Star is the story of a friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the frightfully dark forest. Illuminated by Star’s rays, Fox forages for food, runs with the rabbits, and dances in the rain—until Star suddenly goes out and life changes, leaving Fox huddling for warmth in the unfamiliar dark. To find his missing Star, Fox must embark on a wondrous journey beyond the world he knows—a journey lit by courage, newfound friends, and just maybe, a star-filled new sky.

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake, The Fox and the Star is a heartwarming, hopeful tale which comes alive through Bickford-Smith’s beloved illustrations, guiding readers both young and grown to “look up beyond your ears.”

Given the above, it is really no surprise that I loved the book.  A simple, yet endearing, story blended with gorgeous art and design? Yes, please!

It touches all of the senses.  It has texture and depth and lyricism that engages your hands, eyes and ears.  It is a book you can enjoy all by yourself; just getting lost in the illustrations.  But is is also a book you will want to read out loud (to children and adults) sharing the art as you share the story.

So what can I say? If you love the blending of art, literature and design you will want to have The Fax and the Star on your shelf.

Visit the author’s website for a glimpse of the beautiful illustrations.

The Wooden Mile (Something Wickedly Weird #1) by Chris Mould

I picked the first two books of the Something Wickedly Weird series at a library sale for a dollar apiece some time back. I enjoy illustrated chapter books and figured they would be handy to have around for the kids. My wife recently pulled them off the shelf and was planning on reading them just to see what they were about. Needing a quick and light read while fighting a cold I decided to check them out as well.

I started with The Wooden Mile:

Wooden MileSomething Wickedly Weird is most definitely here! Crampton Rock seems like a lovely seaside town…at least until dark. When eleven-year-old Stanley Buggles inherits a house from a mysterious uncle he didn’t know he had, he also inherits a mystery and some strange and sinister new neighbors. The questions begin to pile up: Why are all the dogs in town three-legged? Why is no one on the streets after dark? Is it true that the man who runs the candy shop is a werewolf? And why do those shoemakers look an awful lot like pirates? With the help of Mrs. Carelli, a housekeeper, and a talking stuffed fish, Stanley begins to unravel the mysteries that haunt his great-uncle’s death and have set their sights on him. A thrilling, spooky, and funny read, and the first installment of a kid-pleasing new series.

This series seemed like such a good fit: engagingly illustrated chapter books with quirky setting… but this book left me cold.

Perhaps, this is where my inability to fairly judge books for younger readers comes into play. The Wooden Mile seemed a little too simplistic and easy to me. There are creative elements and fun characters (and the illustrations) but things just seem to move a little too quickly and come together a little too easily.

Plus, the lead character Stanley seemed a little flat (Get it?). He doesn’t have much a personality and wasn’t developed enough to really a have a sense of who is and what motivates him, etc.

It is a quick and energetic read, however, and as I noted there are some clever aspects (the talking fish and the Jekyll and Hyde scenario) so perhaps I am just too old for these books. I will have my kids check them out since they are the target audience to begin with.

The Wooden Mile (Something Wickedly Weird #1) by Chris Mould

I picked the first two books of the Something Wickedly Weird series at a library sale for a dollar apiece some time back. I enjoy illustrated chapter books and figured they would be handy to have around for the kids. My wife recently pulled them off the shelf and was planning on reading them just to see what they were about. Needing a quick and light read while fighting a cold I decided to check them out as well.

I started with The Wooden Mile:

Wooden MileSomething Wickedly Weird is most definitely here! Crampton Rock seems like a lovely seaside town…at least until dark. When eleven-year-old Stanley Buggles inherits a house from a mysterious uncle he didn’t know he had, he also inherits a mystery and some strange and sinister new neighbors. The questions begin to pile up: Why are all the dogs in town three-legged? Why is no one on the streets after dark? Is it true that the man who runs the candy shop is a werewolf? And why do those shoemakers look an awful lot like pirates? With the help of Mrs. Carelli, a housekeeper, and a talking stuffed fish, Stanley begins to unravel the mysteries that haunt his great-uncle’s death and have set their sights on him. A thrilling, spooky, and funny read, and the first installment of a kid-pleasing new series.

This series seemed like such a good fit: engagingly illustrated chapter books with quirky setting… but this book left me cold.

Perhaps, this is where my inability to fairly judge books for younger readers comes into play. The Wooden Mile seemed a little too simplistic and easy to me. There are creative elements and fun characters (and the illustrations) but things just seem to move a little too quickly and come together a little too easily.

Plus, the lead character Stanley seemed a little flat (Get it?). He doesn’t have much a personality and wasn’t developed enough to really a have a sense of who is and what motivates him, etc.

It is a quick and energetic read, however, and as I noted there are some clever aspects (the talking fish and the Jekyll and Hyde scenario) so perhaps I am just too old for these books. I will have my kids check them out since they are the target audience to begin with.

A Life In Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer

First off an apology. I meant to write about, A Life In Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer, months ago. It has been sitting on my desk and I have picked it up to write something about it a great many times. I even took it on my Christmas vacation meaning to write something then. I just haven’t been able to find the words to capture it and write intelligently about it.

What is it? Well, it is rather complicated:

alifeinbooksA LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley is an illuminated novel containing 101 books within it, all written by Lehrer’s protagonist who finds himself in prison looking back on his life and career. Nearly a year after the controversial author is thrown into a federal prison for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential source, he decides to break his silence. But it’s not as simple as giving up a name to the grand jury. Over the course of one long night, in the darkness of his prison cell, he whispers his life story into a microcassette recorder, tracing his journey from the public housing project of his youth, to a career as a journalist, then experimental novelist, college professor, accidental bestselling author, pop-culture pundit, and unindicted prisoner.

In A LIFE IN BOOKS, Mobley’s autobiography/apologia is paired with a review of all 101 of his books. Each book is represented by its first-edition cover design and catalogue copy, and more than a third of his books are excerpted. The resulting retrospective contrasts the published writings (which read like short stories) with the author’s confessional memoir, forming a most unusual portrait of a well-intentioned, obsessively inventive (but ethically challenged) visionary.

It is hard for me to describe because I have never come across something quite like it.  The best article on it is actually a story from 2011 before the details of how it would be published were settled.  Steven Heller in The Atlantic does a nice job of explaining how the project came to be and what it involves.

Adding to the novel’s colorful allure, the verisimilitude of Lehrer’s 101 cover designs for Mobley’s books is beyond credible. And like the best film title sequences, which establish moods or introduce plotlines, these fictional covers are vehicles by which Lehrer illuminates Mobley’s sad tale of success and failure.

[…]

This is by no means a portfolio; instead Lehrer has created a parallel art world. He set out to make a book that reveals a lot about the creative process, “that shows how artists channel experiences from their lives into their work in ways that are often not directly autobiographical, but oblique, transformative, metaphorical, and hopefully as reflective of the world around them as of themselves.” Lehrer is also smitten by the idea of writing a book filled with stories that spring from other stories. “And like Scheherazade, Bleu tells stories as a means of survival,” he adds.

[…]

A Life in Books evolved out of Lehrer’s queue of book ideas that were lying around in notebooks and random pieces of paper. With his wife and performance partner Judith Sloan, he had the idea of together doing a faux catalogue of 101 best sellers. “Then I decided that as the basis of a novel, all the books would be written by the same author, who is in prison looking back on his life and career,” Lehrer says. “Besides this vague notion and a few ideas about the trajectory of Bleu’s story, the writing really began with book titles. Then designing the covers opened another door. Truth is, I barely looked at other book cover designs or studied tropes associated with different genres while working on these covers. I wanted Bleu, who designs the covers of all his books, to have his own way of doing things, almost naively. I’m not so much into emulation. Pastiche, nostalgia, appropriation can be deadening. If I was spot on with some of these covers, it must come from seeing so much stuff, it just seeps in.”

I would love to be able to tell you that I will no plunge into the book and give a more in depth review but that would be dishonest.  Of course, I might pick it up some day in a burst of inspiration but don’t hold your breath on that one.

But after all that planning to write a review I felt like I had to post something, and it is a very unique book, so if you are looking for something different to read consider this your chance.

Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham (P.J. Lynch, Illustrator)

I haven’t covered a children’s picture book in a while and was motivated to post on one when I picked up Mysterious Traveler from the local library.

Already an old man, desert guide Issa has seen thousands of dawns. One particular morning, however, the desert reveals something new; something that changes his life. Tucked away in a narrow cave, shielded from a treacherous dust storm by a faithful camel, a baby girl lies wrapped in fine cotton and wearing half of a star medallion around her neck. Issa names the girl Mariama. As years pass, Issa loses his sight, and Mariama becomes his eyes. So Issa doesn’t see the pattern on the robes of a mysterious young traveler who comes through their village, or the medallion he wears. Who is this young stranger, and what does his arrival mean for the life Issa and Mariama share in the desert?

It is a wonderfully evocative and engaging story with gorgeous art. It is a simple story, with admittedly very little suspense but it has an elegance and warmth to it.

A great read-aloud book but also a good book for young readers.

Mysterious Traveller Possible cover First copies of Mysterious Traveler lo res