Sherla was lying on her belly on her bed, one of the two tiny singles in the tiny cabin she shared with one of the research girls that just came on board. “Mattie,” she said without looking up from her nail polish, “you can keep talking if you want but I don’t really care about any of that.”
“But the tests are conclusive,” the other woman replied, waving her tablet in the air. “I’ve got it all right here.”
“Don’t care,” Sherla repeated. She applied another strip of opaque black polish to a blank nail and watched as it slowly expanded to cover her nail perfectly. The backs of her hands were criss-crossed with faint scars, leftovers from much worse damage the regen machines back at the base had almost finished repairing, before she got called up to the ship. Still, they were good hands, she thought.
Mattie wasn’t giving up though. “You don’t care that the ruins we found on Planet X are actually older than any known civilization on Earth?” she asked.
Mattie sat down on the edge of her own bed with a heavy sigh. “I mean… that’s a big deal to me.”
Sherla turned her head to look Mattie in the eyes. “I care that you care, honey,” in between blowing on her nails to set the polish. “But I think we just see this two different ways.”
Mattie shook her head, barely ruffling her close-cropped curls. “How’s that?” she asked.
Last week I talked about the first collected book of MIND MGMT issues, subtitled “The Manager”. Today we’re going to talk about the next book, “The Futurist”.
After a quick but clear recap, Kindt drops us right back into the action. When last we left our heroine Meru*, she’s still chasing Henry Lyme and MIND MGMT, still missing memories and still not sure why she’s doing what she’s doing. We see more of Lyme’s perspective this time, which Kindt is better at, giving the second collection a more solid footing. Like the first set of issues, this book is action-packed and a quick read; there’s toothy issues for your brain to gnaw on, but they’re delivered on the fly as Meru and Lyme run through scene after scene.
I’m continuing my big pandemic reread – using graphic novels, collections, and single issues I’ve got in my apartment right now – with the first collected hardback of Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT. Subtitled “The Manager”, this includes issues 1-6, originally published monthly.
I got this and the second collection as a Christmas present a few years ago. The person who gave them to me had read and loved them, which is the best kind of present: not just something they thought I’d like, but a gift of getting to know them better too, but seeing what matters to them.
Last week I reread The Eyes of The Cat, thinking it’d be fun to start reviewing comics again, which I haven’t done regularly since I had a column at SF Signal (1). With the pandemic and ensuing lockdown shuttering my local comics shop for now, I’ve decided to re-read and review books I’ve already got at home. I have so many! Graphic novels and collections and boxes of floppies… I could talk about different comics every week until the end of 2021. (Fingers crossed my local reopens before then.)
So, that’s the plan.
I bought Lost At Sea, by Bryan Lee O’Malley, at The Beguiling when I was in Toronto a few years ago. It was released by Oni Press in 2003 (they also put out his more famous work, the Scott Pilgrim series).
This stand-alone graphic novel kicked off O’Malley’s career a year before Scott Pilgrim began, when he was just 24. It started as a two-page full-color comic in the 2002 Oni Press Color Special, and later expanded into a small book. Though fans will be able to see the evolution in O’Malley’s style from here to there, I actually prefer Lost at Sea. It’s not as directed toward the 20-something gamer geek crowd. (No disrespect intended; I’m both a gamer and a geek.) It’s softer, more open to interpretation, and easier to find yourself in.
Lost focuses on the story of one girl looking for her soul, which was stolen by cats, or traded to the devil. Or she could be looking for friends, or a salve for her broken heart, or a ride back to Canada. There are a lot of possibilities. O’Malley mixes a strong but cute style – grounded in his use of dark line work and sometimes-dynamic panel placement – with a not-entirely-linear story line that was so intriguing I read the whole book in one sitting the first time through. And the next time. And again this week.
What stands out to me most this time wasn’t the way in which this lost girl wandered through her life, but how much the story looks the reader right in the eyes and says, “Hey, you’re secretly pretty great and worth fighting for.” There’s a kind of companionship there we all either take for granted because we’ve always had it, or wish we had because we never really did. The idea that no matter how weird or screwed up we are, there’s someone who’ll believe in us, walk with us, go to war for us… Right now, when any connection is a lifeline, friends like that seem like a dream, and Lost at Sea becomes even more lovely.
Notes and References:
You can still read all the comics reviews from my “Outside the Frame” column at SF Signal, here.
The Beguiling, like a lot of shops, is closed for the duration of the shutdown but if you’re local, you can call or email them to place orders. They’re offering pick-up and delivery. Read more here.
This story was originally written for Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction, an anthology to benefit tornado relief (2011). I later republished it in my 2013 short fiction collection, Women and Other Constructs. It remains one of my favorite stories, and the one I’m most often asked to read at events. (I also haven’t quite gotten through a live reading of it without tearing up.)
The tree grew up around her as she sat at its base, day after day. It had been a sapling when her parents bought the house by the creek, and it made the perfect backrest for Annabelle-the-child. She sat very still, her chubby three-year-old hands clasped together, arms tight around her knees, as her father sat alone on the creek bank. He waited for a fish to appear on his line, and she waited with him.
“I don’t want you sitting all day out on the ground,” her momma had said after the second day faded into evening and Annabelle once again walked into the kitchen with a dirty bottom.
“Yes, Momma,” she’d replied quietly as her momma brushed her off with a hand broom and quick, hard strokes. Her momma sighed.
“There’s no use. That dress is ruined.” Annabelle was given a hot bath, a cold supper, and sent to bed without a story. She wrapped her arms around Mr. Bunny and listened to her parents’ raised voices float up through the floor boards until she fell asleep. The next day Daddy couldn’t fish because he had to work on the house, as it was “in no fit state for people to see,” Annabelle’s momma had said, and there were church people that wanted to come over for a house warming. Annabelle liked the church people, who’d come over to their old apartment with ambrosia salad and fried chicken and Mrs. Cramble, who wore flower print dresses and had thick, soft arms, would give her great big hugs and extra helpings on her plate, and Momma never complained. Annabelle followed her Daddy around all afternoon, holding the tin bucket with his hammer and nails in it, and when he needed one or the other, she’d lift it up as high as she could, and he’d reach down into the bucket and take what he needed. Sometimes he’d smile at her too. Continue reading “Free Short Fiction: “Annabelle Tree””→