Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: graphic novel

Tasty Media Pairing: Early Computers Edition

Some people pair cheese and wine. Some pair celebrities with photos of animals that sorta look like them. I pair comics with other media.


In this case, Ed Piskor’s 2012 graphic novel WIZZYWIG with the AMC channel show Halt and Catch Fire.

Both are about the early days of computers. Halt and Catch Fire revolves around an independent computer company in the dawn of the PC era (1983), trying to make a portable computer that can compete with IBM. WIZZYWIG is about a notorious hacker in the early 90s phone phreak era. Both have beautiful attention to detail and are worth your time.

WIZZYWIG: Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor, Top Shelf, 2012.

wizzywigcoverwspine_lgWIZZYWIG (phonetic pronunciation of WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get) follows the hacks and run-ins with the law of Kevin J. Phenicle, a.k.a. “Boingthump,” a notorious hacker of phones and computers. Phenicle is a character who Piskor based on a synthesis of various real-life hackers, most notably Kevin Mitnik (“Condor”), who was on the run from the law for years, in prison for years, and now works in IT security. Mitnik was the hacker who was said to “be able to start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone,” a phrase which comes up in WIZZYWIG to describe Phenicle. Phenicle is an ever-shifting character: contrary to the title, what you see is never what you get with him in this story.

wizzywig-preview-01-ed-piskorReasons you should check it out:

  • This is a gorgeous book, physically satisfying to hold in your hands. Perhaps ironically, I would pick up the hardcover a hundred times before going digital on this book in particular.
  • The structure of the story is fascinating. The story is told in a patchwork fashion: it combines bits of linear plot with fake news broadcasts, vignettes that help build Phenicle’s character, retrospective interviews with hackers who knew him, lists of the people he used in his schemes, etc. In this way, the structure of the book mirrors a biopic or a documentary more than a feature film. I find it refreshing; it reads like a zine, but has more plot and character arc than a zine. This book showcases what comics can do that no other genre can.
  • There are many many nods to hacker culture and the history of 90s hacking/phreaking/social engineering. If that’s familiar territory, you’ll find it delightful. If it’s unfamiliar territory, you’ll find many interesting places to jump-start your own research.

Reasons you might want to pass it up:

  • If you are looking for a well-rounded, diverse comic, this is not it. This is a story about arrogant white guys. The most significant female character is Kevin’s grandma, and she never actually appears in the panels, but rather exists as a disembodied, floating voice. There are some women Kevin wants to have sex with or uses in his schemes. And a black guy beats him up in prison. That’s about it in terms of diversity. Actually, aside from his childhood friend, Winston, pretty much everyone
  • If you want a very linear story with clear plot points, the patchwork story structure might annoy you, I guess?!


Halt and Catch Fire, AMC, 2014

hacf-cast-photos-988x551-clTrue confession: I only found this show because Kate Leth was talking on Twitter about how Lee Pace’s character is bisexual and it’s frigging nice to see some bisexual men represented on TV.

Even though I started watching the show for superficial reasons (who doesn’t want to see Lee Pace make out with a dude?!), there’s a lot to love in the show. Lee Pace plays Joe Macmillan, a highly ambitious salesman who swoops into a small Texas computer company and recruits Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a sad, alcoholic visionary whose last computer project failed. Joe convinces Gordon to help him to make a new machine with an OS designed by whiz kid college dropout Cameron Howe (Makenzie Davis). They’re helped at times by Gordon’s wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), who is a data recovery expert at Texas Instruments.


Reasons you might check it out:

  • The chemistry–sexual and otherwise–between the actors is fantastic. All of the characters are struggling with the balance between being creators and consumers–of computers and of each other. All of the characters could be shoved into single-story stereotype boxes, and yet they all somehow manage to evade cookie-cutter roles and are instead nuanced, interesting people.
  • The show is set in Dallas in 1983, and the 80s aesthetic is captured perfectly in the sets and costuming. It’s delightful. It’s a period piece, and a very well done one.
  • In terms of representation, Halt and Catch Fire beat the pants off of WIZZYWIG. In the first season, there are two significant female characters, Cameron and Donna. There are a few folks of color who show up, albeit none are main characters yet. Yes, Joe is bisexual.
  • Donna and Gordon’s relationship, in particular, is interesting and important. Donna is a working mother who ends up shouldering a disproportionate amount of the house and parent duties. Donna and Gordon have a tumultuous relationship, but at the same time believe really strongly in each other. Again, the characters are complex and fascinating.

Reasons you might pass it up:

  • You…hate…television?

Review: Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes

A Tale of Two Daughters

SPOILER ALERT: I do talk about some events that happen during this book. I don’t give away everything, but if you want untouched, pristine snow of new reading, then go buy the book. And stop reading reviews, you silly.


Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes explores the paths of two women: Mary Talbot and Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce. Mary’s memoir alternates with sections of biography about Lucia. The two are particularly suited for each other; Mary’s father was a Joycean scholar, and Mary grew up steeped in the language and culture of Joyce. While there are remarkable parallels between the women, the stories are not exact mirrors of each other. Mary and Lucia both struggle, during the tale, with their relationships with their stodgy, angry, and abusive fathers.

Talbot’s art is well designed to aid the reader in knowing exactly when and where the action is taking place. Scenes of Mary in her young adulthood are in crisp color, while scenes of Mary’s childhood are delicately watercolored sepias with less defined panel borders. Lucia Joyce’s stories are told with a watercolored blues-and-blacks palette that nicely mirrors Mary’s childhood stories.

Compared to Mary’s childhood, Lucia’s seems almost idyllic. Mary details her distant, academic, and angry father with details that cut right to the heart. “I’m not sure when longing for his presence turned into its diametrical opposite,” says Mary, as she details a scene of her father slapping her after a failed math homework session. The sophisticated, intelligent voice of Mary-the-writer blends nicely with the innocent, honest voice of Mary-the-child. Mary also uses quotes from Joyce and others in the narration, which helps Mary’s father truly become the “cold mad feary father” of Joycean prose.

While Mary’s story begins in depression and rises to somewhat of a happy ending, Lucia’s is the opposite. She begins on a high: a frugal-but-loving childhood, an adolescence pursuing the dream of dance, and an apparently decent relationship with her father. However, her story plunges into depths of tragedy and psychological turmoil even as Mary decides to get her life together and move on.

Mary’s story does not end definitely, certainly not as definitely as Lucia’s. In a way, the “soft ending” of Mary’s story is satisfying; it highlights the sadness and ridiculousness of reality, how life doesn’t follow a nice story-like path. To an extent, Mary-the-storyteller seems wrapped up in her anger with her father more than self-examination and a desire to save herself.  In some ways, however, the book suggests that these two women made different choices in their heroine’s journeys…each woman reacts to her father’s desire to infantilize and dismiss her differently. Lucia’s wild anger pushes her over the edge, while Mary’s persistence sees her through to some kind of a coherent adulthood.

In the realm of Graphic Memoirs, I find this a compelling read. It’s not as satisfying and justice-filled as Bryan Talbot’s intense fiction story about abuse, The Tale of One Bad Rat. Nor is it as nuanced and brilliant as Alison Bechdel’s Funhome. That being said, I think it has a place on the graphic novel enthusiast’s shelf, and certainly on the Joycean’s shelf and the memoirist’s shelf.

On a completely unrelated note, Mary and Bryan Talbot were adorable in the 70s. They were just the cloak-and-ankh-wearing Tolkien nerds that I would have been. Well, let’s be honest, I *was* that nerd in my early 20s. But I still would have been that nerd in the 70s. Just with more exciting hair.


Want to take a peek? Buy it at your local comic shop or online.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot, illus. Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse, 2012. $14.99

The Divine Comedy

Let me tell you about a project I once did. I funded it with grant money, which means it must be good, right?

The original concept was grand and sweeping: A three-part graphic novel script based on Dante’s Divine Comedy (in my head I imagined all of the issues, bound together as one large and epic trade paperback with all three stories running parallel to each other). In reality I finished part one (Inferno) and drew out the first issue. Still! It’s a great concept, and I enjoy playing with it from time to time.

In the original Divine Comedy, Dante* writes himself walking through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, guided by various supernatural entities. The Dante character is quite fallible and affected by his spiritual journey and surroundings. For example, he becomes a total jerk as he descends farther into Hell, and saves face as he ascends the mountain of Purgatory.

In my version, I have a character called Annie, like to me in personality and hometown, but unlike me in family circumstance. (Somehow she sprouted a three-child catholic family. Her siblings are kind of like Jungian personality aspects of her. Don’t ask me, I just wrote it down.) I’m not the first one to think of a modernized Dante story. The illustration at the top is from a series by Sandow Birk, a radically modern translation with amazing illustrations that parody some of the original woodcuts.

The overall structure of my tale goes like this: Hell is childhood. Purgatory is young/middle adulthood. Paradise is age. Certainly as a young adult about to graduate college, I felt like I was standing at the base of Mt. Purgatory, getting ready to climb.

So I wrote what I knew: Conifer, Colorado. Childhood. Hell. I have a script for all of my version of Inferno. Who knows, I may get ’round to drawing the rest of it. I am afraid I’ll have to start over: I have the script but the drawings are in an archive in Colorado and I believe the original scans of the drawings disappeared in the Great Computer Theft of ’07. Serves me right for not backing them up, eh?

But in the meantime, I wanted to share excerpts of the research I did on Paradiso. What research, you ask? I interviewed various people over 50 about their take on the nature of Paradise, not the heavenly concept so much as the earthly one. I also asked them how their definition of success had changed since they were 20…that was a healthy thing for a 20 year old to be asking when she’d be plunged into the “real world” the next year…

So, over the rest of January, I am going to listen to and blog about these interviews. I will post selected edited transcripts as well; clearly, I’m not going to use the names of the people I interviewed, as my permission does not extend that far. Perhaps they can get names from Paradiso instead.

Until the next interview from Paradise….

*Note: Dante is one of the only literary figures who had a first and a last name, but GOES BY HIS FIRST NAME. We don’t even call Shakespeare “William”. But Dante is not “Alighieri”, he’s “Dante.” How cool is that? He’s like the Madonna of the 1300s.

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