Travel Thursday Snapshot: Copenhagen Thermometer

Having been born and raised in Southern California, I reach for a hoodie when it gets into the 60s. Oddly enough, I like cool weather, as long as I’m warmly dressed. My hands and feet don’t like it, but my legs don’t mind, which is why often you’ll catch me wearing shorts with gloves. As long as my nose and ears can take it, and the wind isn’t so bad, I’m good to go even in the low 50s.
Of course I did some skiing in the local mountains, shot the Vancouver Winter Olympics—really wasn’t that cold—and most of all did Arctic training in the Marines, where I learned the secret to going to the bathroom in freezing weather: don’t. But that was with the highest tech gear available, and with all the running around I was actually sweating as long as the wind chill didn’t get through the balaclava. So I have been in cold weather before, even ridiculous stuff—I only lasted two hours on Antarctica, but that was partly due to the smell of the penguins—but am in no way used to it.
It was early November as I took the shuttle to LAX, wearing my heaviest jacket because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage. Of course it had to be 104 in the city of beautiful angels that day, but by the time I landed in London it was exactly half that, so I ended up needing the jacket and was glad I’d put up with the sweat to start.
A few weeks later I was in Copenhagen, fully enmeshed in the story A Ton of Redheads, which you will find earlier in this blog history. It was a rare evening alone, so for once I didn’t have a redhead telling me which club to head to. Instead I wandered from the center of town, where the train station was, though not taking the Stroget this time, as I knew it well by now. I’m sure my fantastic sense of direction kept me from getting too lost—could always grab a taxi back anyway—but all these years later I can’t remember just where I was when I stopped to take a photo of something most tourists probably didn’t notice.copen
If my math isn’t as bad as usual, that thermometer on the building had it in the low 40s, but that was early in the evening, and the night was just starting. Take a look at the little kid in the right foreground, blimped up like the Michelin Man, to tell you what his parents thought about the forecast. (I later went over to see what he’d found on the ground that was so interesting, but it must have moved on.) I do remember walking down that street, looking for anything that caught my eye like I do in Berlin or Zurich or many other places. Perhaps I wrote something down in my journal about it, but there’s nothing that comes to mind in my brain about anything I saw there, which means nothing bad happened either. As long as I kept walking I didn’t feel much cold, until my ears and nose couldn’t take it anymore. At a certain point, not having any fun, I said screw it and flagged down a taxi to my hotel, knowing I had a full day of redheaded fun to come once the sun came up. . . and warmed things up a bit.
;o)

Book Reviews: Graphically Challenged

Blue Hand Mojo: Hard Times Road
A half-dead magic man walks the slums of Chicago in 1931, helping out an old friend while trying to regain what he’d lost, or more likely sold, to the devil.
This is the first time I’ve heard the term Hoodoo noir. As far as the artwork, it translates into harsh black and white drawings, though some of the work is intricate. When it comes to dialogue, which appears on the side of the drawings, while he mostly speaks usual, he’ll also bring out stuff like “I likes my liquor” and “I’m starvin’ for some beans, so spill ‘em.” So in other words, not that different from regular noir.
The magic stuff was all sorts of confusing. The only clear moment is him using cigarette smoke to make it happen. His girlfriend’s sorcery is a lot more intriguing.
This would have been much more awesome if it had been named Mississippi Golem or some such.
3/5

Mer
Angry-at-the-world redhead and creature of the sea find each other because of their matching necklaces. There’s some evil creature that looks nothing like Ursula out to get the merpeople, because a certain part of their anatomy goes well with wine.
This had possibilities, but all the high school drama makes it hard to like. I get how I’m supposed to feel sorry for her, but she and her friends act so stupid at times. This is probably for young teens, because with anyone older I imagine a lot of eye rolling. And the scene where someone is sneaking up on them just left me cringing; did the author really write such dumb characters on purpose?
As for the artwork, the bright colors make it looks like a vintage comic, like Archie or some such. At the end there’s some early designs and small articles about the mythology of the sea.
3/5

The Castoffs, V.1: Mage Against the Machine
Clever subtitle.
All black and yellow to start as a group of semi-super fighters take on killer bots destroying what looks to be a European town. Soon enough it switches to a full color fantasy where a healer in a far-off land asks for help when people are losing their memories. She sends three students to help, with the warrior always bickering, the scout too insecure to say anything, and the healer surreptitiously controlling the warrior with her inside voice. When they’ve figured out why they were chosen for this mission they quit their bickering and go all Wonder Twins—or Triplets, in this case—powers, activate!
There’s some good stuff, like the history lesson around the campfire, and more importantly some sly humor; “Why am I getting licked?” Wrong potion, happens all the time. My favorite part was “You have your dad’s eyes.” Talk about an easy distraction, like “Luke, I am your father.” But I’m not a fan of all that squabbling, so that even when they got it through their heads to work together I was already disliking them too much.
3/5

DC Essential Graphic Novels 2017
First off, great cover of Wonder Woman reading a comic while easily winning a tug-of-war against a bunch of guys, including Superman and Batman.
After an intro with the Flash stopping a comic book store robbery, there’s 25 Essential Graphic Novels; quite a bit of Batman, but I like that Gaiman’s Sandman was included. Each major character gets a page, but not much info. Even Suicide Squad shows up, no doubt because of the recent movie. There’s a section on Page to Screen, starting with Wonder Woman, also as expected considering that movie will be out soon. TV shows like Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, and a couple of my faves—iZombie and Lucifer—are here as well.
Wow, MAD magazine! And a section on collectibles. There’s also a large section at the end, over 30 pages, that lists a recommended reading order, plus a selected backlist, but if you’re that much into comics it’s stuff you should already know.
As a catalog it does its job. As a guide for those entering the comic book world, it’s good too. Just don’t expect it to be an actual BOOK.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Pencils

“I make a mean sandwich.”
She cooed, “I make a mean sandwich happy.”

Britannia
A Roman soldier is manipulated by the chief of the Vestal Virgins to become the first detective in history, unless the ancient Greeks had stories they didn’t bother to tell (long shot). Then Nero sends him to the British Isles to find out what’s going wrong, thinking it was actually his idea.
Starts with a history of the Vestal Virgins; seems like far too many of them were blonde. The story quickly moves to northwest Europe, with plenty of blood and gore, as well as magical Druids and devils, so it’s certainly not a straightforward history.
There’s this one panel of artwork that I find so spectacular—though I can’t explain exactly why—full width with a flying sword. You’ll know it when you see it.
In between the chapters are scholarly articles on the Vestals, centurions, Nero—was he really that bad? Yes and no—and Roman Britain.
3.5/5

Letter 44 V.1 $10 Trade Edition
Pseudo-Obama takes over for pseudo-Bush and finds out there are aliens in the asteroid belt who no doubt will invade Earth at any moment. There’s also a mission sent to check out the aliens, launched three years ago.
There’s some really good scenes among the expected storyline; the briefing from the scientist in charge, the three questions guy, for example, was brilliant. I laughed at the baseball breaking the White House window and scaring the Secret Service. Sending conspiracy bad boy on a tour of every embassy is such an awesome twist. And there’s a very cool artistic effect on the flash-bang.
I’m liking the way this is written, though the plot may be too much. Thought there might be something to the scene when General Johnson comes in for the briefing, since they’re talking before the secretary leaves. . .
The scientist repeating that all of them were volunteers is rather ominous. . .
Sadly it ends at a critical juncture; get another ten bucks ready for volume 2.
Almost 20 pages of dossiers on some of the players, creator bios dressed as White House correspondence, and ads for other books.
3.5/5

Small Favors: The Definitive Collection
A lesbian who can’t stop with the self-loving is told to cut it out—there’s a lifetime allotment of masturbation? Wonder if there’s an actual number (asking for a friend)—and is given a helpful little blonde imp to keep her fingers and dildos in check. Little Nibbel is also helpful in letting me know the next section is a dream sequence, so thank you! Plus she’s really cute, incredibly funny in her naiveté. She’s the best part of this, playing a big part in the stor, as well as defining the title.
For me the other best part was how the author wasn’t afraid to break the fourth wall of get meta. Something as simple as “Bet you had to shower after that one!” makes for a big guffaw. Even when the author doesn’t know where to go with the plot we’ll get a line like “Who was that girl on page 104?” I thought it was the neighbor, but I guess I was overthinking it. And I also wondered who was taking the photos.
Very explicit sex is depicted, which is for the most part fine, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, had it been a man taking her so roughly rather than a blonde pixie with a strap-on, there’d be all kinds of protests. There’s a small interlude of Nibbel doing herself on a lightbulb that made me laugh so much. Spaghetti and wooden spoons just got a lot more sexy, but it helps if you have a Barbie-sized pixie playmate. And the safari story was extra hilarious, along with the dramatic cry of, “Alas, we are exposed!”
There’s about 15 pages of early sketches and outtakes at the end, the best feautring Nibbel playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em. . . better yet, Nibbel being playfully attacked by the dialogue bubbles. . .
Most of it is done in simple black and white sketches, quite effective. When it at a certain point turns to color, it’s a little jarring.
It’s a fun read, if nothing else because it treats sex, especially lesbian sex, as fun. Another reviewer nailed it by calling this “innocent and lighthearted.”
4/5

The Life After V.1: $10 Trade Edition
Groundhog Day turns into a time travel back to what looks like 19th century England. Then things really get crazy. . .
Then Ernest Hemingway shows up. . .
My initial thought was “That lady sure has a lot of handkerchiefs. . .” Every little thing is controlled in this Orwellian world, so when he steps out of the usual routine to return the handkerchief everything goes crazy, and the story behind the story unfolds.
“I was talking to the dog. . .” Saw it coming, still made me laugh. The dog also does the best sideways-head-tilt puzzled I’ve ever seen in a two-dimensional character. Plus he’s a tease. . .
What kind of people are in charge of this crapsack world? “Let’s see if we can find someone taking a shower or something. . .”
You can see it in Hemingway’s face: “Surely you must be the son of god. . .”
This volume one finishes on a pretty big reveal.
Creator bios and ads at end.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Magic Trees, Mayans, and Unicorns

A well-fed city is easier to govern than a hungry one.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Christmas tree with a mind of its own, so to speak, gets between a telepathic detective and her semi-vampire lover.
Despite the strangeness it’s actually a simple premise, leading to an examination of relationships set in a fantasy world. The characters are enjoyable, especially the cop, and that’s what’s important, since she’s the lead. She’s telepathic with her twin and maybe others, including trees, which makes things more fun. Also really liked the nymph; she’s obviously magical, but in some ways so down to earth, even in the way she walks, or struts. . . or her taste in men, for that matter.
A fun passing of time.
3.5/5

Feather
“I should have killed her already. It was my job, the thing I was hired to do. . . I was an assassin, and Jane Jones was my target.”
A supernatural being is hunting another supernatural being, only to fall in love with her. Other supernatural beings, with callbacks to previous stories, either help or hurt, depending on how they feel that day. The story begins in London 100 years ago before moving to present day NY, with the connecting device a mystical hotel where non-humans can have an erotic vacation.
There’s some explanation of the earlier story, but not enough; might have been better without it. Some good moments, but mostly meh. This doesn’t know if it’s a fantasy revenge chase story or an erotic romance.
2.5/5

Christmas Kiss
Two divorce lawyers on opposite sides of a case end up sharing a cabin in Tahoe. He wants her, she hates him but thinks he’s hot. Gee, wonder what’s gonna happen. . .
That wasn’t the only time I was less than surprised; there’s a line that goes, “I’d never been as happy as I was in that moment.” Yeah, that’s not ominous at all. . .
There’s some good stuff in here, with the protagonist constantly having to readjust her assumptions of him. . . although sometimes they’re more like rationalizations so she can feel okay about taking him to bed. In general the writing is good, with some pretty funny jokes. On the other hand, the line “I pulled my hair back into a French knot” appears four times in the first half off this novella.
As always in romance stories, lack of communication and erroneous assumptions lead to misunderstandings, causing anguish until everything can be explained at the end.
Cute, but nothing special.
3/5

Mayan Mendacity
Like in the first one, the Australian librarian/archaeologist protagonist works on bones from a dig and realizes something’s wrong, in this case in a completely grisly way.
These stories are mostly soft and inoffensive, though I’m not sure I’d call them cozies. Again like the first one, it’s her large and genetically wide family that is the best part of this, along with her extended circle of friends. Even the cats get in on it, as I had a ton of fun imagining this scene in my head:
Recalling her clumsy attempt at larceny caused Elizabeth to relive a ghost rush of adrenaline. Unbeknownst to her, Loki had accompanied Elizabeth into Nainai’s room. As Elizabeth reached for the box on the bedside table she had trodden on Loki’s tail, causing the cat to scream. Startled by the yowl, Elizabeth had dropped the box. It landed on the cat’s paw, causing Loki to screech again.
That’s a cat that lives up to its name!
There’s some recipes at the end, since there’s a lot of food talk throughout.
This was a little better than the first. Hope the next one comes out soon; already wondering what archaeological alliteration the title will be. . .
(Aztec Adversity?)
4/5

Unicorn Crossing
Another collection of my favorite comic strip, featuring the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old girl and a unicorn who thinks far too highly of herself (that might have been redundant).
Right away it starts on Halloween: costumes, pumpkins, and a secret party Marigold is planning. More importantly, it guarantees an appearance by my fave character, Todd the Candy Dragon.
There’s also a beautiful plot where Marigold goes off to a unicorn spa with her sister in that magical place known as Canada, and Phoebe finds it hard to cope without her. Though these jokes do not lean heavily on the pun side, they did prove to be my favorites this time, such as “Unioncorn!” and the especially awesome “Thrones of Ermagard.”
More than anything else I love how big the panels are; each page features one full-color four-panel strip, two panels in two rows. There’s also a glossary at the end, since Phoebe’s vocabulary is a bit higher than her grade level.
Like the previous entries, this book proves why I start every morning with this strip.
4.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: Oostende

For a SoCal boy used to warm beaches and colorful sunsets, there was something almost magical about the gloominess of the North Sea. It was easy to tell these were regular everyday clouds and not storm clouds, though the water was roiling and the sea breeze was chilly, the kind of landscape that made imaginations run wild: warships, monsters, even hurricanes.
As had become usual for me whenever I was traveling in a cold place, I longed for ice cream, and found it easily, though the pretty redhead seemed at first surprised and then amused to have a customer in this weather. She’d literally been the bright spot of the day—and I don’t mean just her hair—as she’d been lonely without customers and, like a lot of Europeans, wanted to practice her English. She managed to slip in a remark about her husband early on so there would be no misunderstandings, and considering I was in my early 20s and just arrived in Europe I took it better than I might have otherwise expected, continuing to chat as I passed the time until I could move on to a warmer place.
And yet here I was sitting on the promenade, gazing at the sea. . .
My morning had started in London, more specifically at a hostel in the remains of a castle in Holland Park, just west of Kensington Palace. Waking up at such an early hour was bad enough, made worse because there were a bunch of people sleeping around you who would get riled if you woke them. Every sound as I dressed and packed seemed magnified until I finally lugged my backpacks out into the lobby to call for a taxi from one of those infernal British payphones where you make the call first and, once they’ve answered, make them wait until you put the coins in. Then it turned out the front door was locked and it took me a bit to find the rear entrance, by which time the cabbie was waiting impatiently in the cold gloom.
Though I did not fall asleep on the way to Victoria Station, I didn’t remember any of the ride. Nor did I fall asleep as I sat on the cold floor with my back against a wall, waiting to check in for the train that would take me through the southern part of England to the ferry/jetfoil/hovercraft. Luckily I was wearing my high school choir hoodie, which bore a huge maple leaf in honor of our Vancouver Expo 86 tour, leading an also-yawning couple to approach me and ask if I was a Canuck too. They didn’t seem all that disappointed to find I wasn’t, as we kept each other company through the trip, and I ended up having lunch a few times with them over the years whenever I visited Victoria. (One time Rob took me to his wife’s Bath and Bodyworks-type shop to surprise her—she remembered me too—and then led me a few blocks over to a strip club, but that’s another story.)
With the boat landing in Oostende I first made my way to the Eurail office to get my pass validated, then had my ice cream redhead time. Another hardy soul was womaning a pomme fritte stand despite the cold, but even though French fries are one of my fave eats I resolved to wait until just before heading for the train station to satisfy both my curiosity and my hunger. But that wasn’t for another two hours. This was obviously in a time before cell phones, when we had to lug around 1000-page books called “Let’s Go: Europe,” but I simply couldn’t manage to pull mine out because I was too mesmerized by this pedestrian yet somehow magical view of the North Sea. . .
Almost missed my train. . .

;o)