Best book covers of 2016 – My pick of New Zealand’s finest

2016 has seen the publication of a bunch of great and interesting New Zealand books, with plenty of strikingly attractive covers. Here are my picks for New Zealand’s best book covers of the year:

Number one is Mansfield and me: A graphic memoir by Sarah Laing, published by Victoria University Press. The cover, as drawn by Sarah, is a thing of beauty. It also draws you into the compelling counterpointing of Sarah and Katherine Mansfield – the very heart of the book.

mansfield_and_me_final_cover__50890-1467692638-1280-1280

Here’s what Sarah had to say about her cover design:

It’s quite a different proposition designing your own book cover as opposed to designing for others. I had a couple of other options but it was pretty easy to settle on the one I liked the most. I took Mansfield’s profile from a famous 1915 photograph, and tried to draw my own to match it. I wanted to echo the vase/profile illusion, and also to have us facing each other, when, in so much of the book, our stories run in parallel. Later in the book, Katherine and I share a cup of coffee, and I used to print from my coffee cup as a motif in the background.

Katherine Mansfield. Ref: 1/2-003106-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23065921
Katherine Mansfield. Ref: 1/2-003106-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23065921

A close runner up is Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young. It’s also published by Victoria University Press. The difficult second cover on Ashleigh’s blog Eyelash Roaming explains how the cover came to be:

Well, for my second book, I asked Elliot Elam to draw me a picture, though I didn’t know what the picture should be … Maybe more importantly, a stranger is picked out of the anonymous crowd and made knowable. Without getting too lofty… in a way that’s what I wanted to do with this book of essays: attempt an impression of things that otherwise would have rushed by.

Can you tolerate this?

Bronze medal goes to Hera Lindsay Bird’s eponymous book of poetry. An interview with Hera by Ellen Falconer in The Wireless has a bit about how that distinctive cover came to be:

Ashleigh Young [my editor] has a friend called Russell Kleyn who is a really great photographer and she set me up with him. I had quite a different idea; I have quite a funny portrait of myself and I wanted a really Dorian Gray thing, where there was a portrait of me holding a dorky portrait of myself, but it actually didn’t turn out that well.

He saw this yellow raincoat in this weird attic I was living in and he just wanted to take a few photos of that, so it was kind of a random shot. But I really like the way it turned out and that it obscures my face. What I told him was that I kind of wanted [it to have] an Yvonne Todd vibe about it – feminine but also a bit creepy and off.

Hera Lindsay Bird

Fergus Barrowman, VUP publishers comments on the triple victory:

The books make the covers (that is, if the books weren’t great and successful no one would be noticing the covers); all three were ferociously art-directed by the authors with only gentle pressure from the publisher.

So my three picks for best book covers also happen to be books I loved inside and out. They also are all published by Victoria University Press. So I think I can officially say it – VUP gives good cover. They have cannily produced postcards to show off them fine looking jackets. Next stop, VUP badges and tshirts??

More standout covers from 2016

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Cool covers for kids

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Special mentions

Let’s take a walk

C1 Book launch
Artwork from Let’s take a walk

A Christchurch book that deserves a special mention is a picture book produced by C1Espresso, and edited by owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey. Let’s take a walk looks at Christchurch places before and after the earthquakes. It was written by Nicole Phillipson, and the exquisite illustrations are by Hannah Beehre. The design and layout – with all its fascinating fold outs – is by Alec Bathgate & Tahlia Briggs.

Have a read of Moata’s interview with Sam Crofskey about this poignant pop-up book.

Gecko Annual

The cover of the Gecko annual is a zingy orange red with a dash of gold on the cover. But it’s the contents that are a symphony of beaut design work. Have a look at Kim’s blog post for some pics from inside the annual. It’s a stunner.

Best book covers of previous years

For more book cover and design, see the PANZ Book Design Awards.

Angel Catbird and Margaret Atwood

CoverMargaret Atwood has written a Graphic Novel? Wait, what?

Who’d have thought the popular award-winning Canadian novelist, poet and short story writer would put out a comic book. I’m amazed.

And Angel Catbird is amazing! Harking back to early comics of the 1940s, this entertaining story has all the elements of the genre. Surviving a near fatal collision with a car, his beloved cat Ding, an owl and a DNA changing serum, our Hero Strig Feleedus is transformed into Angel Catbird. The once-quiet scientist now has a six-pack, owl wings and a cat’s tail and must come to terms with his new abilities. There are some funny scenes as he learns to supress his baser instincts.

Evil villain Dr Muroid; part human, part rat, commands an army of rats he intends to humanise, feminise (eewww), and take over the World! If only he can get his clawed little hands on the formula. Meanwhile, down at Club Catastrophe, Cate Leone prepares for war … Part Femme Fatale and half cat, Margaret wanted Catbird’s a love interest drawn sexy but not gratuitously, as befits a feminist author.

In her introduction Atwood explains that even though she is “a nice literary old lady”, she drew comic book characters as a child and has never stopped; influenced by early comics such as Little Lulu, Mickey Mouse, Rip Kirby, Mary Worth, Marvel and Dick Tracy, and the later political satire of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

Nature Canada, a cause close to Margaret’s heart, has added the odd footnote to the story – suggestions on how to protect both cats and the environment. The statistics are interesting without lecturing.

I’m hooked and can’t wait for Volume 2 – due out in February 2017.

Margaret Atwood 2015
Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Resistance is futile

Cover of Star Trek, The Green LanternHave you ever seen a book and known you just had to read it–not because you thought you would actually like it necessarily, but because not reading it was just–inconceivable? Well, that’s how I felt when I saw Star Trek, Green Lantern: The Spectrum War.

I’ve never really gotten into reading graphic novels, unless you count the Asterix and Tintin books I used to read when I was a kid. And I don’t know much about the Green Lantern, except that he’s, uh, green, and he, well, carries a lantern. But I am a Trekkie!* And even though I’ve never really felt the need to read much Trek fiction, I just had to read this! Resistance was futile!

And you know what? I loved it! The artwork beautifully captures the rebooted Star Trek characters, and as I read, I could literally hear Chekov, Spock, and Bones talking in my head. What’s not to love about a book that does that?

I mean, OK, the Superhero-Trek mash-up was a little goofy, but reading it put a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s just what you want a book to do.

And while we’re talking about Star Trek, last weekend Mr K had the brilliant idea of sending the kids to see Finding Dory while we went to see Star Trek Beyond, and I have to say I had a fantastic time! It was funny, exciting, and even touching. Bones and Spock were hilariously paired up, Kirk was his usual arrogant self, and new-girl Jaylah kicked butt, which was awesome. In the August issue of Empire, director Justin Lin said:

In making Star Trek Beyond, I wanted to embrace the essence of Trek

And that is exactly what he did. It’s Trek as it should be!

 

*Read about my fangirl experience when I met Marina Sirtis

Superheroes and villains

heroesvillainswebtile

Have you recently been bitten by a radioactive spider? Do you like to wear colourful tights under cover of darkness? Can you leap earthquake-damaged buildings in a single bound?

If you answered yes to any of the above (or even if you didn’t), Central Library Peterborough needs your help! We’ve received word that the local supervillains are planning to descend on us between 1-3pm on the 25th of June, and we’re woefully unprotected*!

If you don’t have a secret identity pre-prepared, we can help you create your own superhero masks and cuffs on the day, and if you’re feeling out of practice we’ll have some superhero training activities to test your superpowers. When you’re ready, hunt for the supervillains around the library! Or have a go at our comics table — design your own superhero/villain costume, participate in our collaborative comics, and colour in some of your favourite comics characters!

There’ll be spot prizes on the day, so dust off your Armageddon costumes and head over to Central Library Peterborough for some comics-related shenanigans.

Cover of Sewing Dress-up: 35 Cute and Easy Costumes for KidsIf you’re after some inspiration or practical advice, we can help –

*Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is out of town for a library conference

Cosplay and Comics at Papanui Library

Love reading and drawing your own comics? Do you want help with your drawing, assistance with your technique and tips on comics, publishing etc and a free comic? All of this for no charge? Right then get yourself signed up for our free comic drawing workshop at Papanui Library with Spencer Hall, artist/cartoonist. The workshop is for ages 12-18, registered attendees only and a limit of 30. We won’t let you go hungry either, there will be pizzas from Hell.

comic book day posterThere was a waiting list of disappointed young cartoonists last year so don’t delay, break out the light sabers, shake out those capes, slap on the face paint and come dressed as your favourite comic book/Manga character and be in for a prize.

International Free Comic Book Day is on Saturday 7 May this year but our event, which will include free comics courtesy of Comics Compulsion, will be on Saturday 21 May.

The selection of free comics this year ranges from Dark Horse to Archie to Strawberry Shortcake to Titan’s Assassins Creed to Love and Rockets. Something for all tastes.

To see what you might be missing check out last year’s pictures.

Meanwhile back at the library our comic book collection grows apace. We have comic books about Men who dress as Bats, Women as Cats, Green Men, muscly men, and animals that talk, Bart Simpson and Adventures, Mysteries, Funnies, Scareys, the lot. I was delighted to see Scrooge McDuck, nephew Donald and the Beagle Boys make a comeback in hard cover. Made me quite nostalgic for my young reading self.

Conspicuous consumption

For me holidays are always an opportunity to consume, not merely Christmas dinner leftovers and far too many Ferrero Rochers, but also culture. The books, movies and TV shows I haven’t had time for during the year get their chance over the festive break. It’s always a struggle, of course. There’s simply too much to get through.

So how did I do this year? Not too badly actually. Here’s what I managed to cram into a week and a half of public holidays and annual leave.

Movies

I made a real effort this year to grab a bunch of movies I was curious about but never got around to watching. Results were patchy.

  • Housebound – I’d heard good things about this Kiwi horror-comedy and they weren’t wrong. High on the creepy factor but plenty of laughs too. Haunted house meets awkward mother-daughter dynamic. Highly recommended.
  • Spirited Away – Critically acclaimed Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. I’ve never really been into anime and this movie didn’t change my mind. Just a bit too weird and fantastical for me.
  • Never Let Me Go – I really like Carey Mulligan but when the other two points of a love triangle are Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, I’m going to struggle. A beautiful film to look at (if you like the colour brown) but quite slow paced. Do not watch if you’re in a bad mood already, as it’s a bit of a downer (based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro).

A selection of DVDs

  • They Came Together – I really, really wanted to like this. I’m a massive Amy Poehler fan and I adore Paul Rudd but this attempt to subvert the cliches and tropes of the rom-com failed to hit the mark. I couldn’t help thinking this would have worked brilliantly as an SNL sketch, but just couldn’t stretch to a whole film. Some fun moments but not enough of them, unfortunately.
  • Turbo Kid – Canadian/NZ co-production that had a lot of buzz at last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. A retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, BMXs, extreme cheesiness, that guy off McLeod’s Daughters, and what must have been an absolutely massive fake blood budget. What’s not to love? With knowing nods to everything from Soylent Green, to Mad Max and Cherry 2000, this pastiche/homage to sci-fi was a lot of fun to watch (though sometimes through your fingers because INTESTINES).

Television

  • cover of The White Queen The White Queen – On a whim, for a bit of escapism I started watching this series based on Philipa Gregory’s historical novels The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter and ended binge-watching the whole thing. It covers the turbulent period during which the houses of York and Lancaster were battling for the throne of England, the War of the Roses. It begins with King Edward IV falling for a fetching Lancastrian widow and portrays the power grabs, manipulations and betrayals of his reign and beyond. It was this period of history that inspired George R. R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire novels and this series is similar, in bloodiness, intrigue, and, er, nudity. Not a bad substitute until the next season of Game of Thrones turns up (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Books

  • Cover of Truths, half truths & little white lies: A memoirTruths, half truths & little white lies: A memoir by Nick Frost – Often memoirs of famous people give you the impression that from a young age they were destined for stardom and great things. Nick Frost’s book has you marvelling that he managed to leave the house, let alone have a successful career, what with all the drugs and not being very confident and having a traumatic upbringing. It’s the story of an ordinary man who has struggles and demons just like everybody else and not in a “oh, I’ll just book into The Priory for a bit of rehab, dahling”, showing off kind of way, but the unglamorous “everything’s gone a bit terrible” way. This made me want to read Simon Pegg’s Nerd do well again and compare flatting anecdotes.
  • Concrete Park vol 2 – More violence, betrayal and sci-fi adventures on a prison planet. Waiting not very patiently for volume 3.

So how did you do over the break? Get a few titles ticked off your To Read (or To Watch) list?

Geek girls unite!

I am something of a fangirl about a variety of things but my main obsessions at this point in time are Star Wars and anything Joss Whedon has ever done, said, or breathed on.

Some people will never understand the levels of devotion and excitement I experience when trawling the action figures aisle at K-Mart, or researching Star Wars cosplay on the Internet…and that’s perfectly okay. I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of motorsport, and scrapbooking leaves me cold. Each to their own.

Cover of The fangirls' guide to the galaxyThis idea of respecting each others fandoms is a big one in Sam Maggs’ brilliant how-to The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls. This book is the self-affirming “I’m okay, you’re okay” tome that geek ladies everywhere have been waiting for. I wasn’t very far into the book before I found myself wondering why on earth noone had written it before. It very obviously needed to exist and Sam Maggs’, fangirl extraodinaire (her cosplay game is on point) and associate editor of geek girl culture site The Mary Sue, is just the woman for the job.

The book celebrates the variety of fandoms that we lady-folk enjoy and it’s actually quite educational. There’s some fangirl terminology explained, (I have an additional use for the word “shipping” now), as well as providing the basics on a range of fandoms, some of which I’m not personally that familiar with, like gaming and anime. The book includes short interviews with some successful fangirl actors, writers, and artists, a rundown on the best “cons” aka fan conventions (sadly all North American though SDCC is on my bucket list) and con etiquette, and a really useful primer on feminism. What exactly is “intersectional feminism” and where do I sign up? This book has got you sorted.

Cover of Ms Marvel 3My favourite chapter is “Your new faves: Kick-ass female characters you need to know” as it’s basically a recommended reading (and watching) list. It’s what turned me on to Ms Marvel, has me adding the movie Haywire to my For Later shelf, and casting my gaze towards Tamora Pierce’s Immortal series. Yes sirree, we librarians like a good book recommendation more than most.

Speaking of which, I’d also highly recommend Felicia Day’s You’re never weird on the Internet (almost). Day swims in much the same sea that The Fangirl’s Guide does. She’s well known as an actor in genre shows like Supernatural, Eureka, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has always been a nerd and fangirl herself, particularly in the area of MMORPG.

Cover of You're never weird on the internet (almost)Just to give you a notion of Felicia Day’s cultural caché – Joss Whedon wrote the foreword to the book and the back cover features a glowing endorsement from… George R. R. Martin.

So yeah, lady is connected.

But it wasn’t always so. The funniest parts in the book are where Day documents her offbeat childhood of being homeschooled and rather isolated from her peers. In such conditions her weirdness was able to fully ripen (to the benefit of us all). As an awkward oddball, she sought out belonging and community via the only means available to her… the Internet. And she’s been hanging out there, making awesome things happen ever since.

The book is heavy on self-deprecating humour and tells the tale of an awkward child who turned into… an awkward woman. But one who has learned to back herself, make stuff she loves and push on through the bad (addiction, anxiety issues, gamer-gate etc) with humour and whatever the dork equivalent of “grace” is.

Do you have any recommendations for great geek girl reads (or viewing for that matter)?

Make a Fun Palaces comic

Get your Fun Palaces on right now with the Fun Palaces Comic Maker!

You can drag and drop characters inspired by Emily Medley’s original Fun Palaces illustration into a comic-book story. Just move the images around, and add captions to tell your own Fun Palace adventure. Once it is looking slick,:

  • “Preview” – you can save the image to your computer
  • “Submit” and add to the already expanding collection of Fun Palace comics which will be shared at funpalaces.tumblr.com.

Here’s my maiden effort.

Comic

Kia ora and big ups to the very talented Talia Yat and Phil Gullberg of the State Library of Queensland who made the Fun Palaces comic maker, based on a concept by man-who-makes-things-happen (and library lover)  Matt Finch.

See you at Fun Palaces – it is on tomorrow and Sunday (3 and 4 October). The first Fun Palaces in the world this year will be the Christchurch ones!

A half circle journey – Suki Kim and North Korea

Cover of Without you, there is no usThere are only patchy representations of North Korea in our popular culture – comedians dressed up as Kim Jong-il, Team America, that recent Interview movie. In a world where the Iron Curtain has come down, it is still Unknown. But Suki Kim knows North Korea, she’s been there many times. Suki is coming to Christchurch on Sunday 30 August as part of the WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View events in the Christchurch Arts Festival. Her topic: On North Korea: Inventing the Truth and she’s in conversation with Paula Morris.

Her book Without you, there is no us: My time with the sons of North Korea’s Elite. A Memoir unveils what has been hidden. It starts with the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011 and then goes back into history, and into Suki’s time as a teacher at PUST- the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

If this were the sort of story that invites readers to nod with empathy and walk away both satisfied and educated, I would say that I travelled full circle. But in truth my journey was barely half a circle, a sad one that could never be completed, because those who were at the center of the harrowing history are almost certainly long dead, or old and dying, and time is running out before their stories are lost in the dust of the past. (p. 11)

Suki shows us Pyongyang as a place of rules, bureaucracy, and regimentation. North Korea is full of constraints  – and the constriction is political, emotional, and intellectual. On some of their school trips, there are glimpses of starving people, and forced labour. It is a place where even the sons of the elite have an existence that is controlled, and devoid of freedom.  Everyone is watched, you are likely to be spied upon, and the very words you utter must conform or you might be reported. Suki wants to open the world up to her students, but knows she can’t:

It was a fine dance. I wanted to push them, but not too much; to expose them to the outside world, but not so subtly that no one would notice… Awakening my students to what was not in the regime’s program could mean death for them and those they loved … Awakening was a luxury available only to those in the free world. (p. 70)

Suki teaches, but she is continually taking notes for her book. She observes her students open up,  and how some lie and deceive.  I was swayed by her emotional currents:

And so I went from love to pity to repulsion and distrust, then back to empathy and love again, and these switches of feeling were confusing. I reminded myself that I did not come from a place where mind games were a prerequisite for survival to such an extreme degree, a place where the slightest act of rebellion could have unimaginable consequences. (p. 134)

This is a book that could easily be claustrophic. But it isn’t, because she provides such captivating views of the Koreas North and South, and family history, and her own emotional landscape. Her book will make you understand North Korea in a new way.

Cover of PyongyangIf you want to read more about this strange and fascinating place, I recommend the graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle. It captures that same alienness and constriction found in Suki’s story.

There seems to be a flurry of new books about North Korea. We want to understand.

Cover of The firector is the commander Cover of The girl with seven names Cover of The Great Leader and the fighter pilot Cover of Marching through suffering Cover of Under the same sky Cover of Dear Leader

Free Comic Book Day

On Free Comic Book Day – Saturday 2 May 2015 –  I went to Comics Compulsion in Papanui, and we bought a My Little Pony comic and got some freebies.

Meanwhile 31 teens were at Papanui Library celebrating Free Comic Book Day with a fun workshop and pizza and comic swap. Spencer Hall and Elijah Lopez, two graphic artists, helped the budding comic-makers with drawing technique tips and advice.  Comics Compulsion came to the party with free comics.

Free Comic Day at Papanui Library

Spencer thought the teens “made some really great work!” He animated some of their pictures together on his blog.

Find out more