Monday, June 22, 2009

Love and Murder

Kevin Coolidge

“There's some illogical part of me that still believes if you want superman to show up, first there's got to be someone worth saving.” Jodi Picoult

I’ve always loved comics. I love the swiftness of the narrative, how the action and the graphics grab you and suck you into the story. I remember discovering Superman, and Batman, and my favorite, Spiderman. I remember the excitement of getting a new issue every week. I remember the unlimited fantasy, anything could be imagined, anything could be drawn—there were no boundaries…

I still love the idea of comics, and although I don’t read them anymore. I still read the occasional graphic novel. A graphic novel is basically a comic book, but it is longer with a more complex storyline, similar to a novel. So when I heard that novelist Jodi Picoult was writing a Wonder Woman graphic novel, I decided to check it out.

Jodi Picoult is a bestselling author with over a dozen novels, and in 2003 she was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction. Jodi Picoult experienced a nice taste of writing comic books for her novel The Tenth Circle, which is how DC Comics found her.

Wonder Woman is not a character that has ever appealed to me, or to most of the guys I know. I've always liked the potential of Wonder Woman. Although she’s a woman, the comic has never had a female writer. I thought perhaps that an award winning novelist and a female perspective could be just what Wonder Woman needed for a fresh reboot.

After reading Wonder Woman: Love and Murder by Jodi Picoult, I feel that DC Comics’ game plan was to use her bestselling status as a marketing tool. The concept of using an established character writer may have worked if Picoult was allowed to write her own story, but instead she is thrust into a dictated plot, an already establish story arc and the crossover Amazons Attack, which you have to buy if you want the end of this story. It’s like having books one and three finished in a trilogy, but asking another author to write book two.

Nevertheless, its obvious Picoult has done her homework. She’s known for doing extensive research for her books—such as living with an Amish family for Plain Truth and going on a ghost-hunting trip for Second Glance. Still, I feel that Picoult fails at capturing Diana’s character. She acts like she has just arrived from Paradise Island: she has to learn about latte terminology, the use of money, and how subways work, even though she’s been on Earth for years.

For someone who has never written super-hero comics, Picoult manages to cram a lot of hackneyed clichés. Granted, Picoult wasn’t given a lot of room to establish brand new comic book conventions, but I found that Picoult’s voice in Wonder Woman sounded much like any other comic book writer – though this is as much compliment as criticism. If Picoult’s goal was to try her hand at the comic book genre, she succeeded in producing a standard representation, hackneyed, ham-fisted clichés included--Her mother’s convenient resurrection being just one example of a typical tired comic book convention. If Picoult hoped to bring something fresh to the Wonder Woman saga, this Amazon missed her mark.

One place Picoult really does a great job is in the light tone and putting Wonder Woman in a “Man’s World.” I find it amusing when the Amazonians destroy the Washington Monument because it’s a phallic symbol, but I was disappointed when the story ended on a cliffhanger. There is no resolution. I expect some kind of resolution in a graphic novel, and it left me feeling frustrated.

I’d love to see Jodi Picoult do a graphic novel where she has more creative control. She has the experience and talent and I wonder what this woman could do if loses the bustier…

Love? Or Murder? Email me at Dying to see past columns? They are laid to rest at Catch “Hobo Finds A Home” now available in “Manga” style, and coming soon…Hobo Anime, in 3D Dolby Surround Sound. Sorry it’s going to be in Japanese but the DVD will be available with English and Croatian subtitles…

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Doing it all, undomestically

Kasey Cox

As colleges around the country hold their pomp & circumstance celebrations, and high school graduations wait just on the other side of this calendar page…. and with the intense competition for jobs, and the dark views of the economy … perhaps now is not the time for me to tell you how much I loved a book that recommended stepping back from working your ass off.

I know that right now every graduation speech, every career counselor, every recruiter is going to tell you that in order to succeed, you’re going to have to work even harder, longer, and smarter than you’ve ever worked before. Certainly, many people are finding themselves working longer hours, whether they are recent graduates looking to impress a new boss, or an experienced worker with a new second job because a spouse was recently downsized. Some people who had been planning on retiring soon are finding that they’ll need to work a few more years than originally planned. I’m sympathetic: small business owners are putting even more hours themselves, and farming out fewer hours to other, part-time help.

So maybe it’s not a great time for me to recommend a fluffy story about a high-powered career girl who has to give it all up, but then realizes her life is better for working less.

Or maybe it’s the perfect time.

Hollywood recently discovered British “chic-lit” author Sophie Kinsella, producing a movie based on the first of Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” books. Perhaps Touchstone Pictures was hoping to make a movie as successful as the 2001 adaptation of Helen Fielding’s book, Bridget Jones’ Diary. Although the “Shopaholic” movie was amusing, and the books even more so, I think the producers missed the mark. Their timing, as well as their choice of Kinsella novels, seems rather poor in taste to me, if you’ll excuse the pun. I think the best Kinsella novel for this summer is The Undomestic Goddess.

If you’ve ever been a workaholic, a perfectionist, or a driven Type-A dude, you’ll really appreciate Samantha Sweeting, who is on the cusp of being named the youngest-ever partner at Carter Spink, high-powered London law firm. While her small apartment languishes under piles of empty take-out boxes and boxes of unopened junk mail, Samantha toils away more than fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, permanently attached to her Blackberry and cell phone. She’s brilliant, she’s determined, and she’s so stressed-out that she makes an enormous error that costs her clients 50 million pounds. Fleeing in mortification, Samantha runs, ending up on a train to the countryside. Exhausted and lost, she knocks on the door of a large country estate, gets mistaken for the interviewee from the Housekeeping Agency, and….

Okay, so the premise is a little far-fetched and the plot rather heavily engineered. What redeems this novel from the bin of just-another-beach-read is that there is nothing unrealistic about the character of Samantha Sweeting. Sure, Samantha is a comic character who begins to understand what is really important in life, and what brings deeper satisfaction and balance for the long-term. We could read that lesson in many a self-help book or hear it in a myriad of greeting cards: experiencing it yourself, however, sinks it home. If you love to read, sometimes experiencing feelings vicariously through a character is the next best thing. The Undomestic Goddess reminded me to slow down, enjoy the taste of food thoughtfully prepared and enjoyed with loved ones, the importance of taking time off.

I think that’s where we are right now. Yes, we may need to work hard, perhaps harder than ever to “get back on track.” Or maybe we’ll realize, as Samantha does, that the old track wasn’t so great after all. Perhaps less money but more satisfying work will fill our days. Food and friends instead of adrenaline and fancy toys. Coming out of crisis mode and into the good life that’s been here all along. That’s why I came home to the endless rolling hills of our home. Here’s to the good life, and to you, wherever you may find it!

Read all about how Hobo found his home in his children’s book, cleverly titled, “Hobo Finds A Home.” Read excerpts from his forthcoming book, containing his household tips and favorite recipes, at his blog: No Blackberries or chipmunks included. Martha Stewart and Opal Mehta, eat your heart out! Hobo knows the good life, and it doesn’t include plagiarism or jail time. He takes stock in the love of his fans.