Friday, February 20, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 5 of 5: Mysteries of the Jungle

Today I conclude my look at Angola's representation in early comic books! Again visiting Fiction House's Jungle Comics, we're in issue #153 (September, 1952) and a Mysteries of the Jungle feature entitled "The Death-Man of Angola" by Anthony D'Adamo.

Rather than featuring an ongoing character, Mysteries of the Jungle shifted its focus from story to story. In this tale we're delving into a tale of witch doctors set in "east Angola." It seems there was a powerful witch doctor named Zargo, "master of the temple of death." Zargo is unable to better the fortunes of his tribe through his ceremonies, but one day a young hunter named Wanderobo arrived and the hunting improved. Some of Zargo's priestesses suggested he initiate Wanderobo into their ranks, but instead Zargo summoned up magic to doom Wanderobo. It seems Zargo's real talent in sorcery was conjuring up death and it works as Wanderobo falls off a bridge into a pool of crocodiles.

With Wanderobo's death, the hunting economy plummets. A priestess tells Zargo she's figured out who's responsible and hands him a pouch containing an object which belongs to the responsible party. Zargo casts death upon the owner and soon after, monstrous demons enter Zargo's room and kills him; the priestess had placed one of Zargo's own bracelets into the pouch. With Zargo's death, the hunting improves again.

This tale steps outside the confines of the other stories I've looked at as it's straight-up supernatural - demons and evil spirits exist here in real, bodily forms. Witch doctors are a real problem in Angola, but only because of people who believe in their quackery - not because they can summon up demons. I'm a bit non-plussed about the supernatural aspects.

  • +2 estrelas for depicting leopards & crocodiles
  • -1 estrela for Zargo. Granting witch doctors any amount of credit is too much

TOTAL SCORE: Uma estrela!

Thank you for enduring this week-long look at Angola in early comic books. If you know of any other stories from the 40s or 50s which should have been on my hit list, please tell me about them!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 4 of 5: Jungle Tales (with Trader Jim)

Continuing with Fiction House's Jungle Comics we move into the very next issue, #151 (July, 1952) and a Jungle Tales feature starring one Trader Jim.

It seems Trader Jim is some white fellow travelling in Africa with a boy named Tommy. While at a trading post in Angola (or "the" trading post, according to the narrator), Jim hears there's trouble. A hunter called Big Tembu has been bragging about his exploits hunting elephants and thinks "ostriches and giraffes are for women to hunt!" He's so opinionated on this subject that he's about to crack a hunter named Moloki over the head, but Jim arrives to save Moloki and asks to hear Moloki's story.

Moloki begins talking about hunting ostriches in the Veldt which is... not in Angola. Anyway, he and his fellow hunters wear Ostrich heads upon their own so that they can approach the birds through the tall grass, then attack en masse by using bolos. Another hunter, Babongo, describes giraffe hunting and how alert and dangerous a giraffe can be. Jim concurs with both hunters and describes seeing a leopard attack an ostrich, zebra, antelope and giraffe at a water pool, but the ostrich and giraffe ganged up and killed the leopard. The assembled men decide to take a page out of the animals' playbook and gang up on Big Tembu, throwing him into a water pool to humiliate him so he'll stop bragging.

This is a pretty slight tale, but it is at least an interesting idea to get into the details of animal hunting. It's a respite from the usual big white hunter/jungle lord-type tales.

  • -1 estrela for placing the Veldt in Angola
  • +5 estrelas for using five animals found in Angola

TOTAL SCORE: Quatro estrelas!

Tomorrow: I wrap things up with one last Jungle Comics story!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 3 of 5: Camilla

As I continue my look at early comic book depictions of Angola, the focus finally shifts away from 1942 and into 1952 - albeit, still within Fiction House's Jungle Comics series. Turning to issue #150 (June, 1952) we have an adventure of the jungle queen Camilla by Victor Ibsen & Ralph Mayo!

As you can see from Jess Nevins' entry on Camilla at his Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes site, Camilla was once a less-conventional jungle heroine, being a true queen and rather villainous. Over time, her stories became much like the rest of Jungle Comics' fare as she switched to the typical Sheena-wannabe swimsuit garb. Much the same thing happened to Fletcher Hanks' wonderfully bizarre Jungle Comics heroine Fantomah, who became a typical "jungle girl" when Hanks left the series. Camilla's adventures seemed to be around the Congo area, so moving her to Angola for a feature isn't unbelievable.

We open on a safari led by Jules Ranier (our villain, as his cigarette-smoking and scowling eyebrows denote) travel through the jungle upon elephants (which is, admittedly, a very cool means to safari; sadly, Angola's current elephant population is - like all of their habitats - much smaller). Jules' aim is to reach a "confab" (as he terms it) of chiefs who are meeting together to discuss peaceful free trade; Jules intends to set the chiefs at each other's throats in order to line his own pockets as he owns a lot of land in the territory. However, the blonde, bikini-clad Camilla attacks Jules and scampers into the jungle with him as a prisoner. Jules' men try to pursue, but Camilla brought back-up - armed guards who start a fire to block off the elephants. Undaunted, Jules' men bring in local trackers who hunt using cheetahs as bloodhounds. Whoa, seriously? That is, again, very cool (and even true-to-life)!

The bloodhound cheetahs almost catch Camilla, but she leads the cheetahs right into the path of a band of gorillas, "their enemies of old." Wow, forget about the warring tribes, I want to know more about the gorilla-cheetah war! Camilla next evades warriors loyal to Jules by placing masks on some monkeys to trick the warriors into following a false trail while she escapes down the river with Jules (at this point I'm wondering why she wants to keep Jules alive, considering all the trouble his followers are making for her). Jules' men hunt Camilla's canoe into the night, but find only a decoy canoe with dummies set adrift in crocodile-infested waters. Once again, Camilla has won precious time and ultimately the peace treaty between the chiefs is made; one of the chiefs credits Camilla for making peace possible.

This wasn't that bad a story, so far as those "jungle girl" type tales go. Mayo's Camilla is easy on the eyes and the story makes no particular missteps in depicting Angola.

I should also note the story makes repeated references to kraals, a term used more properly in South Africa or Namibia for a cattle enclosure. It's not entirely right, but it's not completely wrong either. It will have no effect upon the final score. Speaking of which:

  • +4 estrelas for using four animals actually found in Angola
  • +1 estrela for bloodhound cheetahs
  • +1 estrela for Camilla's bikini

TOTAL SCORE: Seis estrelas!

Tomorrow: another Jungle Comics tale!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 2 of 5: Jungle Jingles

Having sped past the publisher Standard we move now to Fiction House and their series Jungle Comics - which is where the rest of this week's special Angola in the Comics feature will remain. Fiction House published Jungle Comics from 1940-1954 and it typically hosted an assortment of bare-chested jungle lord types or scantily-clad jungle queen types. However, this first plunge into their pages concerns neither!

A one-page space filler called "Jungle Jingles" appeared in Jungle Comics from issues #24-31 (with no creators credited other than "M.M.") and in issue #29 (May, 1942) we find a reference to Angola! Check it out for yourself:

We would call the "palla" an "impala," but otherwise, spot-on. And it rhymes! There were two other animal rhymes on this page, one devoted to the lion, the other to the aye-aye (of Madagascar).

  • +1 estrela for using an authentic Angolan animal
  • +1 estrela for rhyming the impala with "Valhalla"

TOTAL SCORE: Duas estrelas!

Return tomorrow for another expedition into Jungle Comics!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Angola in the Comics, Part 1 of 5: Biff Powers

Comics and Angola. What do they have in common? Me, I suppose - I'm a lifelong comics fan (occasional dabbler in comics themselves) who has also been to Angola on a couple of occasions. Depictions of Africa can be found throughout comics, but I wondered - what is there of Angola, specifically? Thanks to the Grand Comics Database (to which I am an indexer) I found five early examples of Angola appearing in the comics. Thanks to the Digital Comic Museum, I found scans of all five stories. Why not offer my perspective on these comics and whether I think they do Angola justice?

Caveat: I have only been to southern Angola and only in the 2010s. The comics I'm about to review date from the 1940s and could conceivably be depicting central or northern Angola. I am not an authority on the country, simply an interested party.

We'll begin with publisher Standard and the title Startling Comics Vol.5 #2 (April, 1942). Like many comics of the time, Startling Comics was an anthology of various adventure features such as super heroes, detectives, cowboys and a few comedy features. We're concerned with one "Biff Powers, Big Game Hunter," a jungle trapper hero in the model of Alex Raymond's comic strip feature Jungle Jim. At the time, most comic book creators looked to the strips for inspiration and dreamed of leaving their dead-end comic book careers for the sweet financial security of a syndicated strip - thus, Jungle Jim had a host of imitators. The story is untitled and uncredited, but the Grand Comics Database titled it "The Wolf-Man of Angola" and credited it to August Froehlich.

We open with our hero in the "main office" of Carson Circus, the outfit for whom Biff performed his globetrotting deeds of daring animal captures. Biff's employer Tom shows him an article about a "Wolf-Man" which Biff reads out as "Weird creature terrorizes Angola natives as several vanish!" We the audience are not given any further details but this is enough to convince Biff to go hunting this "weird creature." "What a side-show star he'd make!" This seems like a lot of expense just to to obtain a sideshow attraction, but then Biff lived in the time of Big Circus Money. Biff's lover Marcia isn't thrilled by the idea ("Africa again?") but Biff soothes her by joking "Think of all the Pickaninnies poor Weki's got to feed!" Ouch. Setting aside whomever "Weki" might be, "Pickaninnies" are an old racist term for black children (it comes from the Portuguese, if Wikipedia can be believed, so at least that much is appropriate to Angola).

We move now to the ocean port of Luanda, Angola's capital as Biff and Marcia arrive. So, the creators know the capital of Angola, which is very good! ...And they evidently had no photo references because it looks like a dock on the Mississippi. Weki is there to meet them, he evidently being a familiar native guide. Weki's dressed in western fashions which is a nice change of pace from the usual loincloths one finds in such materials. Although, a day later Weki brings them to his village (he's of the Lunda tribe - and Lunda is an authentic tribal type) and by then he's dressed in the usual loincloth outfit. The Lunda village already has a white man, a somewhat husky fellow named Ormand who is obviously this story's villain (he's unattractive, which is a big tip-off). Ormand claims he came to study the Lundas' customs and confirms the "Wolf-Man" attacks, revealing the being to be called "Boma."

While pitching his tent, Biff sees some baboons and decides to capture "one of the small fry." What, he's going to leave the tent incomplete? Have your ADD diagnosed, Biff. Left alone, Marcia is threatened by a leopard, but Biff returns in time to shoot the leopard dead, saving her. At dawn of the following day Biff and Weki prepare to send out a hunting party, only to hear a commotion and find themselves face-to-face with Boma, a giant white man who is fighting baboons bare-handed. What exactly is Boma? As a "Wolf-Man," is he a Mowgli-type feral human? Or is he a Tarzan-type jungle lord? As a white man among beasts he seems very Tarzanny, but otherwise he's Mowglishy - in particular, he doesn't know English. Biff tries to convince Boma he's a friend, but Boma runs away into the bush. At this point, Ormand turns up, claiming the Lunda have turned against him. Sure enough, the Lunda soon attack Biff and Marcia, taking them both prisoner; Ormand uses his gun to force the Lunda to help him, but does nothing to help Biff and Marcia.

Fortunately, Boma returns and sets Biff and Marcia free, summoning up a wolf pack to assist him in escaping the village. When the trio catch up with Ormand they discover he'd actually been harvesting diamonds and forcing the Lunda to dig for him; Boma's supposed "victims" were actually other people Ormand had enslaved and murdered. Biff takes Ormand prisoner and lets Boma go back to the jungle. "Guess he'll be happier leading a dog's life, Marcia!" Marcia intends to keep the diamonds, apparently believing that finders are keepers. Ha-ha-ha, ain't that just like a woman? And so, the story ends.

While a typical white hunter/jungle man story, this was actually a fairly well-done production by the standards of 1942. To this day, comic book creators tend to think of Africa as an amorphous, hazily defined nation of either deserts or jungles. A little bit of effort went into using Angola here and I think it's worth totaling up my own arbitrarily-defined score to see how well it performed:

  • -1 estrela for the pickaninny remark
  • +2 estrelas for using Luanda
  • +1 estrela for Weki wearing a shirt and pants for one scene
  • +2 estrelas for using a real African tribe (Lunda)
  • +3 estrelas for using three animals which are actually found in Angola
  • -1 estrela for Marcia's blood diamonds

TOTAL SCORE: Seis estrelas!

Come back tomorrow for the next feature!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Unearthed: Trypto the Acid Dog! #1

Since about 1998 the comic book medium has been overwhelmed with Hollywood types (and wannabe Hollywood types) attempting to either augment their career by slumming in comics (because their Hollywood career is stagnant) or trick people into looking at their terrible screenplays (because they want to make it big in Hollywood). And yet, a full decade earlier in 1988, Hollywood big shots Bill Mumy & Miguel Ferrer enjoyed a tenure in comics which included Renegade Press' Trypto the Acid Dog!, a black & white one-shot drawn by Steve Leialoha.

The story opens with portentious dialogue about the existence of heroes as we find a couple named Benjamin & Alison examining the fish of Kentson River in Kirby, Indiana. The couple are collecting evidence against Toxicem, a chemical plant believed to be polluting the rivers. The couple also brought their young son Dewey and his tiny dog Trypto with them.

Next, we meet Mr. Bursky of Toxicem as he orders his thug Gino to deal with Benjamin & Alison, demanding Gino "shut them down," bring him everything they have on Toxicem and that "a fire might be nice." Later that night as Alison is reading Dewey a bedtime story, Gino arrives at the door and shoots Benjamin to death. Ducking under the steps, Gino proceeds to shoot Alison in the back when she comes down to check on Benjamin.

Seeing Dewey descend after his mother, Gino muses, "A kid! I like kids..." then shoots Dewey dead as well. Are we enjoying this yet? Trypto ventures out next, whimpering and licks the dead body of Dewey. Then, in a fit of rage, the tiny dog attacks Gino, biting into his leg and tearing through his flesh. Gino shoots Trypto twice, collects the data then sets the house on fire. By, er, using explosives, which is going to be pretty hard to pass off as an accident.

However, as the fire is being prepared the nearly-deade Trypto crawls from the home, leaving a trail of blood across the backyard until finally splashing into the waters of the polluted river. Exposed the toxic waste in the water, this naturally grants Trypto superhuman powers. Yes, we've just transitioned to the brutal slayings of a family to all-out comic book science! The narration returns declaring "Thy kingdomc come... Thy will be done... on Earth... as it is in Heaven..." so that we grasp the magnificence of this moment.

"Charged with the power of lightning, strange toxic chemicals mingling within his flesh and blood, fueled with a hunger for revenge -- Trypto is born again! Born of water -- born of fire -- born of blood -- born of acid! Trypto the Acid Dog!" Trypto is now clad in a cape with a "T" insignia (the cape comes from a Toxicem sandbag). Obviously with his power of flight and cape, Trypto is revealed as an homage to Superboy's beloved pet Krypto, the Super-Dog (who had been retconned out of existence at the time this story was published). "Trypto" is likewise a reference to Krypto, while also referring tryptic acid. One wonders if this comic came to be because one night Mumy mispronounced Krypto's name and Ferrer thought there could be a story in that.

With his super-senses, Trypto sets out in pursuit of Gino; flying over the river, Trypto's presence causes dead bodies in the river to rise up and follow in his wake. At Toxicem, Mr. Bursky is patching up Gino's wounded leg when Trypto bursts in dramatically through a skylight. He proves to be immune to Gino's gunfire and Trypto does something to Gino off-panel; we only hear Gino's screams and death rattle.

Trypto confronts Bursky now, the dog's body now increasing in size. Bursky tries to run, but runs into the reanimated people from the river, all of them victims of Bursky's machinations. The creatures carry Bursky to a vat of boiling chemicals and throw him in, then destroy themselves the same way (although if in this world chemicals can regenerate dead people and dogs, I'm not sure why these chemicals are more lethal than the toxic waste).

"A fitting end for his kind," Trypto thinks (quoting Batman in a similar situation from that character's first appearance). The next day, a neighbour boy named Robbie finds Trypto at the ruins of his family's home and Robbie convinces his mother to let him keep the dog. A news broadcast reveals that although the home was destroyed by fire, a fireproof safe contained enough evidence to bring down Toxicem. And our story ends as Robbie brings Trypto to visit Dewey's grave.

Thoughts: This is a delightfully odd comic.

As the Batman & Krypto references I noted bear witness, Mumy & Ferrer had some obvious affection for good old fashioned super hero comics. As a comic printed in the time of the black & white boom, one also wonders if the toxic chemical-based origin had anything to do with a certain quartet of turtles who were teenaged, mutant and also ninja.

Leialoha's art is a treat, with Trypto's cone-shaped head particularly appealing. It's a simple story with a few good gags but it takes its plot seriously - rather different than the all-out Rex the Wonder Dog as Captain America parody I complained about earlier, offering somewhat more subtle humour.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2014: From Speedball to Destiny

Many people seem to think their annual "best of" lists merit the attention of others. What, in particular, might my excuse be? First, that I consume quite a lot of media in a given year between the comic books & prose I read and films I watch. Second, that I am extremely picky and difficult to please. Therefore, if I come down in favour of something there's an implication that it must be cream of the crop! ...Though my tastes are likely quite different from yours.

And you, readers of this blog, which 2014 post did you most enjoy? The one where I stood in defense of Steve Ditko's Speedball. Good choice!

2014 MOVIES I MOST ENJOYED

I don't have much to say about new films except that despite all of my recent issues with Marvel, they do adapt themselves very neatly to the cinemas. I easily enjoyed Captain America: the Winter Soldier the most of the year's films because I felt it characterized the Captain very faithfully. Still, I have an enormous soft spot for X-Men: Days of Future Past because it struck a few nostalgic notes for 2000's X-Men (such as revisiting that film's score), reminding me of that bygone time when Marvel's venture into film was still unproved and where famous Hollywood stars appearing in their films would trash-talk them to reporters, as opposed to today's stars who plead for Marvel's table scraps. What a world.

2014 COMICS I MOST ENJOYED

Many of the titles I enjoyed in 2014 are still in-process, but I'm very pleased with Priest & Mark Bright's Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody (valiant; review here), which has reunited them with their best creative property. Walter Simonson is still engulfed in Ragnarok (IDW) which offers his take on Norse mythos without Marvel's filter. Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey have just begun Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw (Image), a great-looking fantasy series about animal people whose legendary hero turns out to be a human. Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez have been doing pretty well with Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland (IDW), although any comparison to the original Winsor McCay strips would be unfavourable; the very format of a serialized comic book presents difficulties in adapting a narrative told via single pages. My friends Alex Grecian & Riley Rossmo just launched Rasputin (Image; review here) which thus far has been an intriguing look at a mythologized Rasputin's beginning and ending. I haven't yet finished Wild's End (Boom!) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard, but the premise - Wind and the Willows meets War of the Worlds - has kept me interested. Dean Haspiel & Mark Waid's The Fox (Archie; review here) was a very pleasant surprise - the most enjoyable super hero comic I'd read since the last Mark Waid comic I'd bought; there will be more from the Fox this year and I'm in favour of it!

In returning titles, I've finally begun to catch up on the recently-revived Astro City (Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson, which has been virtually on-target to the series' usual level of quality. Stan Sakai has fortunately returned to Usagi Yojimbo (Dark Horse) with his own War of the Worlds-inspired series Senso (review here) and with a Color Special (review here); 2015 promises to see the series itself resume, which I'm quite eager to see. Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson returned to Beasts of Burden (Dark Horse) with the one-shot Hunters & Gatherers (review here); hopefully 2015 will see more from them. A friend's recommendation led me to read the collected edition of Chuck Dixon's Winterworld (IDW) early in 2014; much to my surprise, the series resumed with new adventures later in the year after about a 20-year absence! I'm still following Larry Hama & S.L. Gallant's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero! (IDW) as well; the quality varies at times and the sci-fi plots never seem like a good fit for the series, but Hama's snappy dialogue usually wins me over. Sadly, Sergio Aragones Funnies (Bongo; review here) ended this year, though Sergio intends to bring it back with another publisher somewhere down the line. Batton Lash printed a new trade paperback Supernatural Law: Zombie Wife (Exhibit A) and I happily supported it on Kickstarter; I'm sure he has something new in the works for 2015.

In international comics, Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad: Amarillo (Dark Horse; review here) debuted in English and I quite enjoyed it, although it veered away from the series' usual mystery-detective trappings for a more straightforward tale of action. The French comic Peter Pan (Soaring Penguin Press) by Regis Loisel finally received a full English translation and I gave it chance; I enjoyed it, but it was quite a bit darker than I expected with some particularly disturbing material toward the end when Peter and his Lost Boys gradually forget Tinkerbell had caused someone's death. Finally, Sergio Ponchione's Ditko Kirby Wood (Fantagraphics; review here) was a very tight tribute to those three great masters of comic art with dazzling attempts to duplicate their styles.

The only truly new graphic novels I tried out were Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero (First Second; review here), a very pleasant super hero romp with history first truly-Asian-American costumed hero. I also found much to enjoy in Box Brown's Andre the Giant (First Second; review forthcoming), which relates incidents from the wrestler's life as a series of vignettes.

Pre-2014 MOVIES I DISCOVERED & ENJOYED

It took me a very long time but I finally obtained the movie The Crowd, which proved to be a fantastic silent film (some thoughts about it here). My interest in early cinema (especially Warner films) also paid out as I enjoyed Heroes For Sale, The Life of Emile Zola, Wild Boys of the Road and Million Dollar Legs. And while it's sad that Maximilian Schell died last year, at least through his obituary I learned of his pseudo-documentary Marlene, which proved to be very interesting - a real tension between the filmmaker and his subject.

Speaking of documentaries, I enjoyed The Unknown Known even though - as everyone seems to have pointed out - it was not like Errol Morris' earlier Fog of War in terms of capturing a public figure pouring out the conflicts from within their soul. Rumsfeld's lack of self-awareness is fascinating in its own right, but it's not as comfortable as the earlier film's apologetic McNamara had been.

Time spent on airplanes last year gave me many opportunities to view recent releases and 12 Years a Slave and Her were easily my two favourites. I also discovered Ordinary People and quite liked that too. Finally, I viewed Felidae because the very concept of an animated film about a mystery-solving housecat which indulges in both sex and violence is an oddity all its own.

Pre-2014 PROSE FICTION I DISCOVERED & ENJOYED

Ishmael Beah's The Radiance of Tomorrow was a fine novel about post-war Sierra Leone; I didn't find it as involving as Beah's non-fiction, but all the same it gave me more insight into the country, insight which I'll need if I keep visiting there (which at present time is a hard thing to consider). I also read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun and quite liked it, although it left me feeling disturbed more than a few times. I read another Charles Dickens novel: Dombey and Son (most of it while I was in Sierra Leone) and while its happy resolution came together a little too neat for me, I always enjoy reading Dickens' casts of characters.

I poured through quite a few books whose film adaptations I'd already enjoyed; setting aside the films, I found much to like in The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler, Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton, Psycho by Robert Bloch and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It's always interesting to discover where the versions diverged. I was particularly surprised to find that Psycho has quite a few scenes from Norman Bates' perspective when you wouldn't expect them, and to find just how tightly-constructed Jackson's Haunting of Hill House is, from the dialogue to the characters to the rising tension.

I delved a little into the pulps last year and dug out some short story collections, most notably Bloch's The Opener of the Way (review here) and two of Nelson S. Bond's: The Far Side of Nowhere (review here) & The 31st of February (review here. As a personal triumph, I also read the last two Sax Rohmer novels I hadn't previously experienced. My best pulp experience, however, has to be discovering The Black Ace by George Bruce in an issue of Argosy (review here; what a magnificent tale!

Finally, I enjoyed a few books of humour, which is not normally something I try. Bob & Ray's From Approximately Coast to Coast was almost as good as hearing them on the radio and Robert Benchley's The Benchley Roundup brought a few smiles to my tired old face.

Pre-2014 NON-FICTION I DISCOVERED & ENJOYED

My interest in Africa (and in particular Sierra Leone) led me to two great books in 2014: Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, telling the story of the abolition movement in England (which turns out to be much less-inspirational than you'd suppose) and An Imperfect Offering by James Orbinski, which relates the author's experiences offering humanitarian aid with MSF in the midst of some of the worst crises of the last few decades.

My love of films brought me to Frank Capra's excellent autobiography The Name Above the Title and Buster Keaton's My Wonderful World of Slapstick. There were also some great interviews with film directors to be had in Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Devil Made It? and interesting stories about why some films failed to materialize as they were first conceived in Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes. Charles Drazin's In Search of the Third Man held virtually everything I, as a tremendous fan of the film, could ever wish to know about how it was made and what its impact has been. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood by Todd McCarthy was one of the better filmmaker biographies I've read as it took its time to explore the personality in question, delved into his films themselves and generally avoided the type of armchair psychology most books of that ilk indulge in.

In books about comics, Art Spiegelman's Metamaus gave me new reasons to re-read Maus and for that alone, I'm happy I read it. Super Boys by Brad Ricca did a terrific job with the lives of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, although I felt it skipped over a lot of material and indulged in the type of armchair psychology I've previous mentioned a distaste for; still, I read a number of Siegel & Shuster's comics I hadn't sampled before because of this book.

Pre-2014 COMICS I DISCOVERED & ENJOYED

I avoided James Stokoe's Orc Stain (Image) for some time because, despite all of the good word about it, I didn't think I could get on board with his art. After his Godzilla: The Half-Century War disbused me of that impression, I happily read all of Orc Stain this last year. I was also very pleased to find Stan Sakai's other anthropomorphic-fantasy-adventure book Nilson Groundthumper & Hermy (Dark Horse) in its new hardcover collection; it's much more comedic than Usagi Yojimbo but equally as clever. I also decided to finally give Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse (Fantagraphics) a try and bought the first two volumes of the newspaper strip reprints. Although I enjoyed it, I don't think I'll sample any more of the series - the series' actions are so overwhelming as to be underwhelming when read in sequence.

On some strange impulse, I decided to get all of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair (Eclipse/Dark Horse) comics; it's not just the beautiful women or funny dialogue he creates (and I certainly like both) but his love of odd science fiction concepts (especially the transhumanism) keeps bringing me back. I was also very impressed with the first issue of The Destructor (Atlas; review here) by Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko & Wally Wood - but then, how could a creative team like that one misfire? I've also bought most of Joshua Quagmire's Cutey Bunny (review forthcoming) and the graphic novel biography Bogie (Eclipse; review here) by Claude-Jean Philippe & Patrick Lesueur was a brief, but interesting look at Humphrey Bogart's life.

Perhaps the biggest thing which happened to me comics-wise in 2014 was my involvement in promoting Nelvana of the Northern Lights (CGA/IDW) on behalf of the University of Calgary; it was fun to be interviewed for print & radio and do a little to help get people interested in the project. Preparing for the interviews certainly helped me hone my own knowledge regarding the Canadian whites!

Finally, the non-fiction comic The Photographer (First Second) followed Didier Lefevre in his journey through Afghanistan with MSF and held some interesting depictions of culture clash, such as one doctor's irritation with western people's reactions toward the chadri.

THAT VIDEO GAME I LIKED

I certainly don't purchase many video games, but when I do find one I want I tend to play it for several years. With the Xbox 360 being phased out and me unwilling to upgrade to the X-bone at this time, I decided well in advance that I'd give Bungie's Destiny a try. Heck, I enjoyed Halo and I'm going to need something to play on the 360.

I'm mostly satisfied with the game; for the number of hours of enjoyment it's given me, I can't complain. The story is pretty bare (probably because as a mass-multi-player online game the story has to be open-ended) and you find the limitations pretty quickly. I also can't say I enjoy their player vs. player mode (the Crucible) at all; while I might still put in a Halo game and play in versus mode for a few hours, I avoid the Crucible - it seems as though it consists of about 30 seconds of running to find a fight, about 10 seconds of combat, then death and starting the cycle anew; not fun.

Unfortunately, the game's raid mode seems to be intentionally designed to keep out people like me - the casual gamers. There's no matchmaking system for the raid mode and because I can't play with my X-bone friends (re: pretty much everyone I played Halo with) that leaves me unable to form a party to attempt the raid. Irritating. It's interesting to see the communications from Bungie as they address the ways gamers are trying to exploit loopholes in the game. Every message from the developers has a barely-restrained irritation, as though they want to say, "you're playing the game wrong, guys." So far they've said they have no interest in matchmaking, so... I'm shut out. Consequently, there's no point for me to chase down their DLC - I won't be able to use it. Regardless, I enjoy Destiny as it stands.