Mel Staten

Mel Staten

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Mel Staten is a storyteller born and raised in Massachusetts who currently grooms books for a living whilst peddling her writing and drawing on the side. She has a degree in Studio Art and currently resides in Natick with her partner and three [very] fluffy pets.
@MelAn0ma

Posts by Mel Staten

Graphic Novel Review: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

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There is a huge difference between a good graphic novel and a great one. Good graphic novels are prevalent–they’re beautiful, well-written, and an all-around underestimated genre. Still, a great graphic novel is rare and elusive, and will possess some quality that can’t be found in any other book, a unique visual element that the novel cannot subsist without. My favorite graphic novel is Asterios Polyp, which exhibits this quality effortlessly. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud’s book that came out in early February, also contains visual elements that make it settle above the crowded alleys of its neighboring competitors.

The story is as follows: David Smith is one of many David Smiths. He’s not even the only David Smith in the art world. But one day he’s offered a deal by  Death himself–a tremendous gift that would allow him to leave his artistic mark on the world, at the price of his remaining life, which would be cut down to 200 days. David accepts the deal and is given the ability to mold any material with his bare hands, but shortly after meets a girl and falls in love.

At nearly 500 pages, this formidable graphic novel is gorgeously illustrated in blue monochrome. Though this is not McCloud’s first foray into books–he has written a few others about comics–it is his first graphic novel. Despite this, it reads like a self-actualized veteran’s accomplishment.

The main character, David, is a frustratingly tortured artist struggling to make his mark on the world. He continues his downward spiral even after he receives his thorny but incredible gift from Death. Then he meets Meg–who appears to him as an Angel during a street performance–and immediately falls in love. Meg is the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl, instantly loved by all who meet her, constantly helping others at her own expense. As the story progresses, Meg’s character grows beyond the stereotype. McCloud has addressed the manic pixie trope in interviews. Meg is actually based on his own wife. “I married the trope — what am I gonna do?” he says.

Though The Sculptor does not necessarily tread any new ground, it explores its themes of death, memory, and artistic fulfillment, well. David’s artwork, which he takes to the streets, eventually manipulating the entire city to fit his vision, is the needed element in The Sculptor that elevates this novel from good to great. It’s a sad tale, but it gives the gift of hope to the reader and the graphic novel enthusiast who wants this art form to succeed.

Book Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

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This review doesn’t come with a trigger warning, that just happens to be the name of Neil Gaiman’s newest short story collection, which was released in early February. As usual, Gaiman delivers a unique cavalcade of stories marching in a variety of different formats. Stories in the first and third person, stories told as one half of an interview transcript, and stories that may read traditionally, but always don a twist. There is truly a wide variety of fiction here, for which Gaiman apologizes in his own introduction.

“I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers… This collection fails that test. For this failure, as for so much, I request your indulgence and forgiveness…”

Trigger Warning amasses a collection of stories that were not meant to live in the same world, some of which were already given worlds of their own. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” already have their own bona-fide illustrated versions. “A Calendar of Tales” assembles all of the material that Gaiman wrote with the help of Twitter and BlackBerry. “Feminine Endings” has been around for ages, and any Gaiman fan has probably been aware of it since Neil first hooked up with Amanda Palmer back in 2009.

Still, there is a character to Gaiman’s writing that remains consistent. An oddness, a strange frankness about the world, that ties these disparate stories together. They are all so very Gaiman-y, which means, in some strange way, that they are all very much ours.

The stories twist and turn and surprise you, in their own way. Some of them are surprisingly funny, like “Orange,” the story of a girl answering questions about her sister turning into a god. [This happens to be one of my personal favorites from the collection]. There are the takes on classic horror (“Click-Clack the Rattlebag”), a Doctor Who story (featuring the 11th Doctor and Amy, so what’s not to love?), a Sherlock story, and a tale following the American Gods hero, Shadow. Then there are the heart-breaking new characters, making their first and only appearance in this book.

It is a worthwhile collection that possesses the ability to turn any short-story naysayer around.

Cover Artwork for Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

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Graphic Novel Review: Seconds

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With 2014 beginning to fade from recent memory, it’s about time I write about my favorite graphic novel of the preceding year: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book Seconds. Released over the summer, it is O’Malley’s first published work since the last Scott Pilgrim installment was issued in 2010. The story follows Katie, a young chef trying to open another restaurant so she can leave Seconds (her first culinary establishment and the place where she lives in an apartment upstairs). After a dramatic incident in which a young waitress gets injured, Katie discovers her resident house spirit, who gives her a mushroom and an opportunity to erase a mistake and rewrite events. Soon afterward, Katie finds a patch of these mushrooms and begins abusing their power, despite Lis, the house spirit’s insistence that they should only be used once per person.

Cover with half dust jacket

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The back of the book, with dust jacket partially pulled back to show the design underneath.

The book itself is beautiful. The half dust jacket and cover boards have different designs, giving it a unique style. I’m also a sucker for any novel that takes the color of the panel lines into account (props to the colorist, Nathan Fairbairn).

Seconds differs quite a bit from the Scott Pilgrim series, and more resembles his first graphic novel Lost at Sea. The book is a single, contained story, rather than a series released manga-style. The story also incorporates a narrator, though there is some witty banter exchanged between it and the main character, implying that the narrator may be an inner voice of Katie’s. These quirks bring the story to life. There are even some nods to Scott Pilgrim for O’Malley’s dedicated fans. (Scott and Ramona are eating in the restaurant on page 259, for example).

Main character Katie looking pretty cartoony next to her hunky new husband. (Ignore my appropriately themed bookmark in the upper right).

One of the Second’s flaws is its main character, which is admittedly sort of the point–she is flawed to a fault. As she digs herself farther into trouble by continuing to eat the mushrooms that erase her numerous mistakes, it seems to take an unbelievable amount of time for her to learn from these errors. She is hard to root for. Katie differs even in style from the others. O’Malley’s style is cartoony, but Katie’s design takes it to another level, as she is the only character with gravity-defying anime hair.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Seconds; no new story elements or decisions that set it far apart from other works, but it has just the right amount of humor, quirk, and design to make it pop. I want more graphic novels like this, with a single developed story that plays with narrative styles, and some nice resolution at the end. Seconds is worth checking out, and not just for Scott Pilgrim fans.

American Horror Story — Halloween parts 1&2

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This two-part episode packed in a lot of information, while somehow raising more questions than it answered. Look out for AHS Murder House spoilers ahead.

First, it’s time to celebrate, because I was actually right about something! One of my (many) speculations about Tate is true–he is Constance’s son! That small tidbit was overshadowed by the questions about him brought up in this Halloween two-parter. For example, in one of the scenes he was wearing the rubber suit. Does that mean he is always the guy in the rubber suit? I’m hoping not, because gross. There’s a weird discrepancy with him. He seems to understand the minutiae of the Murder House, and appears to be able to manipulate some of it to his will (as in the episode in which he scared Violet’s bully). But then we are introduced to the dead high-schoolers who claim to have been murdered by him, and he unravels into genuine bafflement. It’s difficult to reconcile these two parts of Tate. More importantly, is he one of the many walking dead on the show? (I’m guessing probably yes).

I was absolutely shocked by Addie’s death in this episode. Addie was mowed down by a car whilst trick-or-treating, in such a casual way it almost seemed an afterthought. I wonder if it will ever be revealed how the dead function in the show. Will Addie be able to come back because Constance pulled her to the Harmons’ lawn? If she can come back, it seems like it could be difficult to keep this secret from Tate.

Hayden returned in this episode. I find her storyline tired, but I did like her better as a vengeful spirit, and the scenes between her and Vivien were powerful and needed. Vivien is really starting to get on my nerves. I’m glad that she finally had the guts to kick Ben out, but SHE was the one who wanted to leave that house, and with good reason, so why was HE the one who left? Wasn’t that a good opportunity to get her and Violet out of there? Why do the characters in AHS have that typical horror-themed lack of good judgement?

Wild speculation time. Because I can’t take any normal people for granted, I’m going to say that there’s something off about the security guy who Vivien is becoming attached to. I fully expect everyone to die by the end of this season, but I still have my fingers crossed that Violet will make it out.

Addie and the dismembered baby delivered to the original house owners bring the House Death Toll to 16.

Sailor Moon vs. Sailor Moon Crystal

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It’s the fight we’ve all been waiting for. Even though a few years ago we didn’t even know we wanted it.

[1][2]

Sailor Moon vs. Sailor Moon Crystal

Reactions to the new Sailor Moon series have varied wildly, ranging from excited to horrified after Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal began airing worldwide on July 5th. As the third episode was released on the second of August, and we have another week to wait for the fourth, it seems like an appropriate time to analyze the two series in a completely professional and unbiased manner.

Manga Faithfulness

Though the original series added some lovable elements to the Sailor Moon franchise, it’s no secret that the majority of the anime was ridiculous filler. The primary motivation for the remake is to make a series more faithful to the manga’s source material. I’ll miss getting to know the villains better, but filler was taken to a criminal level in the original, stalling character development and plot. The first three episodes of Crystal each correspond to the first three manga chapters, in which we meet Sailor Moon, Mercury, and Mars respectively. To compare, Sailor Mercury isn’t introduced until the eighth episode of the original. That’s an extreme delay to plot, even if the manga is a bit too fast-paced at times. The obvious winner of this round is…

Sailor Moon Crystal!

Transformation Sequence

Sailor Moon’s transformation sequence is iconic, and it’s important for it to be perfect because we have to watch it so many times. There’s no better way to compare the transformation sequences is than watch them. I’m not a fan of the new CGI transformation. Why are her limbs so… noodly? Toei Animation also managed to make it longer. I don’t know how anyone could have watched the original and thought, “Well, we clearly need to see the main character spin in circles for more time before we get to the action”–even if they did cut it down in episode three to allow the other girls some air time. The winner of the Transformation Sequence Award has to go to…

Sailor Moon (the original series)

Music

Related to the transformation sequence is the importance of music. I don’t dislike the opening theme of Crystal, it’s pretty epic with decent lyrics and some whirling guitar solos. I also like the choir that accompanies the most epic moments of the show. On the other hand, coming from a girl who has the original series’ transformation sequence as her ringtone, the old show’s music was catchy as heck. Though I like the suspense the new music creates, I miss the theme songs that would get stuck in your head for days, and I think a series that is ultimately made for kids should have that sing-along quality, so this award also goes to…

Sailor Moon (the original series)

Art & Animation

Here’s where I’ve seen the most contention about the new series. I will admit, Crystal seems to have missed the mark when it comes to animation. In the very first scene you can see the frames stagger, and there have been a few times I’ve winced to myself because the face proportions were so bad. Some of those close-ups make the girls look truly inebriated. The shading is snappy, though, and it has a much more modern feel. There’s something about the lengthened, looser style that embodies the manga better (at least to me) though why they thought it was a good idea to draw the lips in is beyond me, as that always looks creepy in anime. The old series certainly feels dated in comparison, and some of the drawings in it are just plain bad, too. Whether or not it was good for its time seems irrelevant.

I have to get serious for a moment, because I feel this is where Crystal is receiving the most criticism. People aren’t happy with the quality of the animation, some refusing to watch the new series. I have to point out that maybe Sailor Moon isn’t being remade for you. By you, I mean the other 20-somethings who wanted it to be the high-budget remake that encapsulated all of their dreams while still reveling in the power of nostalgia. Sailor Moon Crystal was made for two reasons–to closer follow the story and character development presented in Naoko Takeuchi’s manga, and to bring Sailor Moon to a new audience. I want a new generation of girls and boys growing up with the feminine power of this set of magical girls. I want them to be introduced to the non-censored version of the content in Sailor Moon, and I want it to be theirs. Sometimes, a show will feel too dated to be relatable to a younger audience, but I don’t think kids will notice the animation quirks in the new anime as much.

Sailor Moon Crystal

So I’m giving this category to Crystal, which makes this competition a tie, and I think that emphasizes my points. There will always be people who prefer the quirk and fun of the original, but dismissing the remake because it isn’t perfect is unjust, and I think in the future there will be people just as loyal to the new series as they were to the old. In the meantime, we can enjoy the influx of Sailor Moon swag that will be in stores, and be content knowing that a new generation will learn that girls can be intelligent and powerful on their own.

Image credits: [1][2]

American Horror Story — Pilot, Home Invasion, & Murder House

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I’ll start off by saying that I was not expecting to like American Horror Story as much as I seem to. The first episode was suspenseful and exhilarating and seemed to pack a, well, mansion’s worth of story into 52 minutes. I was going to start out with two episodes, but ended up accidentally watching three. That’s a good sign.

(Obviously if you’re somehow like me, hiding under an AHS-less rock, you will have events from the first three episodes spoiled for you in this post).

I took notes as I watched, so here are a few samples of my immediate reactions to scenes:

– STUFF IN JARS ALWAYS BAD.

– “We’re the Adams family now,” was a perfect line. I love Violet.

– Tate is the boy from the crying GIFs! He’s already crying and I’m already happy.

– This guy is naked a lot.

– Masturcrying, this show is brutal.

I was completely mistaken when I assumed the show would be episodic horror stories, and I’m ecstatic that I was so wrong. Each episode does seem to have a loose theme of its own–the introduction to the Harmon family in episode one, the serial killer saga in episode two, and the backstories of a handful of other characters in episode three. But the show is ripe with underlying plot and momentum, with a slow burn of suspense rolling underneath it all.

Here’s how the characters are ranked in my estimation currently:

Violet Harmon – I can’t help it, I love her. Her sarcasm, blunt honesty, and unique style are great. She also won points expressing her preference for the East coast.

Moira- I find her incredibly interesting, especially that women see her as a strange old lady and men see her as an object of lust. The men “see what they want to see; women, however, see into the soul of a person,” line was perfect. I am interested to know what kind of spirit she is, and how that works in this universe, since it seems strange that she died as a young woman but now shows age. I hope that is explored later.

Tate- I can’t help it. I adore him. It’s not surprising. I have a thing for screwed up young dude characters. Most of my speculation has to do with him so more on that later.

Vivien Harmon- She’s ending up on the middle of this list and that seems about right. There are some things to like about her as a main character, but she’s a bit bland, too. She seems to have the best instincts out of all of the Harmons–but not quite good enough. The pregnancy story line kind of bothers me.

Larry- Idk I guess this show is great for me because I like all the psychos? I think he might actually be trying to help, so that’s nice, and he reminded me of Mr. Rogers in that sweater vest in the flashback of him killing his family, so points for that creepy imagery.

Adelaide- I don’t like her or really know what to make of her yet. Her supernatural connection to the house is appropriately creepy. I like that she tried to help the Harmons that one time.

Constance- What to say! I love to hate her? I don’t know what to make of her. Mostly I’m curious about why she was trying to poison Violet with those cupcakes. Unless she knew about the hostage situation and everything that would be happening? It would be neat if she has some clairvoyant connection to the house like Addy does.

Hayden- Glad that whole situation was taken care of quickly (thanks, Larry!) I felt bad for the situation she was in, but her unraveling mental state while trying to cling to Jerkface Ben was just awkward.

Ben Harmon- Are we supposed to like him? Does anyone root for this guy? I’m assuming there will be lots of people dying this season and I kinda hope he’s first.

So let’s throw out some wild speculation. Tate. All the supernatural elements are linked to the house, so I’m curious about his connection to it. When he attacked Leah in the basement there were flashes of a monster that looked a bit gobliny to me. That was the same monster that killed the twins in the first scene of the show. So, I’m wondering if he is that goblin-thing? Or perhaps has some control over it? I’ve also briefly entertained the idea that he is Constance’s son who was mentioned at some point, especially since they all seem to know each other.

I wonder if it’s possible to get through this season with a Harmon or two still intact. Since this is the Murder House season, I will leave off with the current House Death Toll: 14.

 

American Horror Story: An Introduction

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That is some pretty cool cover art right there.
I have a summer assignment. It’s to watch a show as if I’ve never seen it before. Because I haven’t.

The selected show is American Horror Story and I am proud (see: slightly ashamed) to say that I know next to nothing about it. Here’s what I know:

1. The cover art on Netflix is pretty sweet

2. GIFs on Tumblr?

3. A tip that each season is entirely different

With the disclaimer that I really, honestly, know almost nothing about American Horror Story, I will share some thoughts about what I expect. I’ve only recently started watching Supernatural, and I had previously lumped the two together. I was imagining two shows with episodic plots that revolve around rehashings of traditional stories of horror and mythology. Which is, roughly, how Supernatural started before it deviated from this formula and found its own plot-based momentum.

I’m expecting to be surprised by AHS, but what can one expect when one is expecting a surprise?

I’ve set a few goals for this blind watch-through of the show. Firstly, I am going to try, with what little willpower I have, to remain spoiler free. (I am expecting an inevitable decline into curiosity that I will be unable to quell, as I almost always spoil shows for myself, but I will try). If I can do that, then there is some hope that my speculations will continue to amuse long-term fans. I may catch myself up on the fandom’s thoughts midway, or once I’ve completed the season. I’ll be posting reactions a few episodes at a time.

I’m especially curious about the characters. Who will I get attached to? Who will annoy me? Who are the bad guys? Is evil in the show unequivocal or dynamic? I don’t even have the faintest idea who any of the characters in the show are, except for one teary-eyed youth whose scenes seem to end up as GIF-sets that I see around.

What will happen? I don’t know! And may my ignorance be ever in your favor, because it should be a little amusing at least.

 

Comic Review: Lumberjanes #1-3

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Lumberjanes Issue #2 CoverWhen I first heard about Lumberjanes, I was sure all of my comics dreams had come true. A completely female-centric story about five girls at a summer camp, solving mysteries with a Scooby-Doo-esque dynamic; is there anything not to love? I was already a huge Noelle Stevenson fan (she is one of the writers, working with Grace Ellis). I had a nagging doubt that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, so I waited for the first three issues to come out before making up my mind.

In general? Lumerjanes is awesome! The first issue brings the reader into the dark woods, immediately before an epic battle against three-eyed foxes. We are introduced to the girls in action–Jo, the tall leader-type; April, her sidekick and Diary scribe; Molly, the sweet-tempered one; Mal, the worry-wart; and Ripley, the ball of energy.

Brooke Allen’s art style is fun and expressive, and the colors by Maarta Laiho are lush, perfectly creating the summer camp atmosphere. Their camp sign reads “Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types” with “Friendship to the Max!” tacked onto the bottom. The story strikes a nice balance between goofy light-heartedness and dizzying action. There are some hilarious gems in the writing, like the names of the scout badges–the Pungeon Master and Everything Under the Sum badges are my personal favorites. (Another fun detail: the back cover of each issue features all of the badges that have been mentioned thus far, so the readers can feel like they’re the ones earning them).

Gradually we become accustomed to the dynamic between the girls. Molly and Mal are an item, and they are adorable, their scenes having just the right amount of bashful shyness. Jo and April are close friends, and Ripley is the hyperactive comic relief character. I do hope that her character is developed more–for the moment she reminds me a bit too much of Donnie from the Wild Thornberries.

My one critique of Lumberjanes might also be considered one of its greatest strengths. This is a fast-paced, action-packed, non-stop story. Part of me wants the action to slow down and give the characters time to breathe. [A few spoilers ahead] In one scene in the third issue, Molly causes the team to get into a few scrapes involving booby traps and feels like she is letting the team down (apparently forgetting she had saved her girlfriend a few hours before). It is a lovely, honest moment that is immediately resolved on the next page, when she rises to the occasion and helps the girls out of their current jam. The scene was well executed, but I think there may have been more power in it had she dwelled longer in self-doubt.

It is a critique I am almost reluctant to give because it is such a unique problem. This comic is about five girls and is almost pure action. Five girls! Pure action! How often can that ever be said in the current comics world? Lumberjanes is filling a void and doing it with aplomb. There is nothing out there like it, and I have a feeling that now that it has been become an ongoing series, the pacing issues will resolve themselves.

If you haven’t checked out Lumberjanes yet, then I just have to steal a line from my favorite gang of camp-goers and say to you, “What the junk!”

 

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