Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not a Review: Summer Komikon 2013 Stash (Part 1)

Not to be confused with a review, here's my initial thoughts on some comics I got during the recent Summer Komikon:

Hero Kitten: Kuting Magiting by Robert Magnuson
It's simple and straight-forward in terms of plot, but Kuting Magiting is nonetheless heartwarming. Don't let the simplicity fool you, however, as this elegance is proof of how meticulous and skillful Magnuson is when it comes to the comics format, best illustrated by this panel:

Who is AC? by Hope Larson (writer) and Tintin Pantoja (illustrator)
Black-and-white with a touch of pink is a nice touch, but what caught my attention is how modern and apt Who is AC? feels. While there's lots of formulaic elements, what turns it around is Larson's mastery of characterization and voice of her teen characters. This graphic novel however is a setup for a series, and I hope it gets continued. Besides, where else do we get to read an American comic that a) is targeted at teens, b) prominently features a female person-of-color as a protagonist, c) written and drawn by female comic creators.

Ang Maskot by Macoy
Snappy and upbeat, Ang Maskot captures an element of the Filipino zeitgeist and weaves an adult narrative around it without falling into the temptation of cynicism. While it doesn't have as much depth as School Run (and appropriately so since this is a self-contained story), it highlights many of the strenghts of Macoy's comics.

School Run (Part 1 ~ 5) by Macoy
There's a lot to love about Macoy's School Run. The art alone is an interesting juxtaposition between the bleak setting and iconic characters. But don't let the simplicity fool you: over the course of each issue, Macoy packs depth into his characters, at the same time imagining a setting that organically resonates with Philippine pop culture, such as the parallelism between the zombie outbreak and typhoons ("Signal #1 Laaang? Sayang!"). Or something as simple as naming a cat as Catniss.

Mikey Recio & The Secret of The Demon Dungeon by Budjette Tan,  Bow Guerrero, J.B. Tapia
The art is undeniably gorgeous and the setting makes great use of the Philippines, but ultimately, this IS a prologue, so the question is whether the team of Tan, Guerrero, and Tapia can sustain the momentum and flesh out the narrative before George R. R. Martin releases the last novel of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Filipino Heroes League Book Two: The Sword by Paolo Fabregas
The previous volume was honestly problematic and this book still has its flaws, such as its indulgence when it comes to the wish-fulfillment aspect. But that aside, there's a significant improvement in terms of the art (and consistency), and with secret origins done away with, Fabregas keeps the ball rolling and creates an atmosphere similar to a thriller novel. What's interesting for me is how the focus on the political is amped up, and is quite appropriate since this is an election year.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why the Bibliophile Stalker is Away

There are two Charles. One reads a lot and writes. The other plays all sorts of games. Both are contemplative and love to strategize. They seldom exist in the same space however. The first Charles could spend years devoting himself to fiction with nary a thought when it comes to games. When the latter emerges, however, there is this overwhelming desire to be the best: why bother pursuing something if you're not going to excel in it?

Writing and reading scratches a different itch: the more I write, the more I become aware that I'm lacking in a lot of areas. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: I think style and voice is important for writers, and if you compensate for your weaknesses too much, you might end up with a diluted narrative. Which isn't to say we can't evolve or become better as writers; but the more you develop as a writer, the more evident your shortcomings become.

Gaming is different. I love games which have a high skill ceiling and there's much room for growth. In recent years, games that I've become obsessed with include Starcraft II, Dota 2, Eclipse, and Mage Wars. While I may never completely master these games, there's an immediate payoff after a short amount of research, training, and practice: you objectively become better playing these games. While writing and critical reading can be subjective (and some writers are plagued with the inability to judge their own writing: what others consider as their talent is crap to them and vice versa), there are definite goals and rewards in games.

Both endeavors, however, require time and effort. It's why I seldom manage to juggle both at any one time (and why extra-curricular activities are sacrificed for the sake of your corresponding passions).

For the past few months, the aspect of myself obsessed with games is what's surfaced. In many ways, it's the me that looks for escape, a distraction from everything else. I have my feedback loop: I'm getting better at this, and other people should acknowledge me for my skill.

Recently though, I've been facing an emotional slump, and reading-writing is what I eventually fall back upon. It's art, and all the complexity that entails: art can be touching, gripping, and relevant to the challenges I face. But on the other hand, it can also be elusive, abstract, and shrouded in Mystery. There are no fixed rules, roles, or goals in life and fiction for me mimics that. I dislike the statement that writers are liars: for me, they articulate truth, even if it's not necessarily what we immediately perceive as reality.

This is me picking up the pieces, rediscovering who I am, rekindling my passion for stories, and coming back to what's meaningful.

(And on a side note, you should read Theodora Goss's Going for Real.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Guest Blog: Architects of Abandoned Cities by Chandler Klang Smith

Steven Millhauser’s novella “August Eschenburg” concerns itself with an inventor of performing automatons – a groundbreaking forefather in a field of entertainment that was in short time surpassed by animation and the movies. Historically, Eschenburg’s art form represents the road not taken by popular culture, but for Eschenburg himself, clockwork is the lens through which he sees the world, the only means of communication that can convey his secret heart. A life in which he ceases to build automatons is without meaning or passion. I find figures like this character fascinating, poignant, even haunting. What happens to a person who thinks in a dead language? What happens to an artist whose art form goes out of style?

In a way, my novel poses this same question about the American circus. Set in the 1960’s, when traveling shows of this kind had long since seen the heyday of its relevance, Goldenland Past Dark concerns itself with two characters for whom the big top is the essential forum for personal expression. The first, Dr. Show, is an impresario past his prime, driven on by ego and delusion even when it becomes clear that the public will never resuscitate the corpse of his career. The second, Webern Bell, is his protégé, a talented and damaged young man with a questionable grip on reality, who finds the emotional landscape of his life only navigable through the surreal clown acts that come to him in dreams. Both characters find peace only in the center ring, but tastes and trends leave them alone in its spotlight, performing for no one. The title of the novel comes from both men’s spiritual home, an abandoned amusement park called Goldenland that they visit one dark and lonely night – a place of faded laughter, long forgotten by most, created decades earlier by a famed toymaker named Kingsley Golden. Walking among its dilapidated rides is like entering the ruined civilization of another man’s mind.

As a fiction writer in the era of glimmering tablets and effortlessly streaming virtual immersion, I wonder if I too am the tyrannosaur offspring of an extinct world. I suppose only time will tell.

Chandler Klang Smith is a graduate of Bennington College and the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, where she received a Writing Fellowship. She lives in New York City. Goldenland Past Dark (ChiZine Publications, March 2013) is her first novel. Learn more about her at, or find her on Goodreads at