Manga: Ghost Reaper Girl by Akissa Saiké

Ghost Reaper Girl Header from the Viz Shonen Jump website – nicely composed, and what lovely colors! The burnt oranges are really well chosen…

Ghost Reaper Girl
by Akissa Saiké (Akihisa Ikeda)
published by Viz Media, LLC (San Francisco)
2020 – present (2021)

I read all available chapters (1 – 29) of this manga yesterday, and I think it’s lots of fun!

Chloé Love, a struggling, 28-year old horror movie actress, gets her big break in an unexpected way: she allows herself to be possessed by a spirit from Hades to battle evil, and a video of her defeating monsters goes viral. After learning that she is a “spirit medium” who can take on the powers of the spirits who possess her, she starts making friends PLUS fighting evil professionally, with enemies that include the nightmarish creatures of the Cthulhu mythos.

It’s fun! The drawing style is lovely, and consistent in a way I appreciate. Everyone is attractive! Chloé is adorable, caring, and makes friends with everyone!

If I wanted to totally misrepresent this manga for fun, I would say it is about handsome men from Hell who come to the normal world to cook for adoring women, as illustrated by this panel. That is a swoon-worthy idea! These friendly domestic scenes are SO CHARMING!! This clever manga offers so much.

Working for a Great Old One who hides its form by doing sexy-nurse cosplay is light-hearted fun. There is a ‘knowing’ sense of humor in the work about manga conventions generally, and I appreciate the way this manga pokes gentle fun at those conventions while also utilizing them smoothly.

While Chloé does often go to battle in a swimsuit and stockings, her character is proportioned respectably, and is treated with affection. Consent is sexy, and she consents to her possession by her spirit friends for battles.

The action scenes are pleasingly composed, too! The artist uses thoughtful design that gives the action sequences clear progress, which is a major accomplishment that should be recognized. (Too many manga have so many battles that are just movement lines and loud noises, so I really appreciate the thoughtful, well-designed battles with strong visual continuity.)

This is a lovely series from a talented artist that includes humor, supernatural action, great design, and a pleasant cast of characters. It sold me on the idea of subscribing to Shonen Jump (link below), and I’m looking forward to future chapters!

Book: Another Day of Novel Editing

I crossed 28,000 words of the re-write/editing project!

I think it’s going well. I’m excited about some events that take place in the story: it really does build up to a proper climax or two.

During this rewrite, I’m seeing that my chapter breaks aren’t well placed within the story. I’m sure I can do better! I should also examine the number of subsections I have, which mark changes of scene. I don’t know if they should be chapters or not, but I do think it is useful to announce location/place/participant changes.

There is a crisis/subplot that feels really relevant to the main character, but I’m unsure whether it plays out at the right time within the story. I’ll have to examine it again. It may be possible for it to occur at the same time, but be explained and examined by the characters later in the story…

There are some nouns that I’m renaming from the first draft as I write, and I’m trying to rename them consistently throughout the book. (Since the book is being re-entered, I can’t just do some sort of global search and replace yet.) This is the sort of thing that I was diagramming in a mind mapping program earlier this week, but a simple table or set of tables listing characters and the names of things (departments, hallways, offices, whether the cafeteria is called that or if it is a staff lounge, etc.) would also help me maintain continuity. So would an editor, but I’m not there yet!

I’m also doing fun internet searches for things like, ‘how many words can I type without injuring myself,’ because the all-meeting era of work meant that I really was NOT typing all day, every day, and my arms have their doubts about this. I’m still learning the ergonomic keyboard. I am learning to take breaks more regularly, and to use my amazing headphones to have a few lively dance numbers in the kitchen, so my blood circulates, and my body remembers life beyond my office chair.

Summary: I’m enjoying this, I’m glad I’m doing this, I’m gaining some new perspectives on how to improve it. Also, I believe this revision is now a higher priority than writing my fifth (!) novel(la) in November for NaNoWriMo, so I’ll keep at it.

Book: Progress on Editing My Novel

It is the season for one of my favorite, messy fruit: the pomegranate. Oh, how I love it.
A pomegranate snack is a great reward for hours of novel editing.

I’m 20,000+ words into revising my first novel(la), and… it feels like being employed! I am in my home office, at my computer, typing for hours on end, forgetting to stretch, and drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, so that seems about right.

My progress comes in streaks – I’m either in a writing mood (when I do my better work) or just plodding along doing more retyping than editing.

So far, I have about 47 pages of text with normal spacing, one space built in after each paragraph, and a 12 point font. Based on (gu)estimates from my small print first draft, where I’m on page 38 (of 134), I’ve added a light amount of clarifying and descriptive text, but haven’t yet made any big interventions in the story.

It is exciting to have gotten this far. I am aiming for about 80,000 words, so it is encouraging to know I’m about 1/4 of the way through this version of the rewrite. (But also: I’m only about 1/4 of they way through!)

During NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words over the month of November comes to writing about 1,667 words each calendar day, and so my 20,000 word progress equates to about 12 days of writing. Excluding days of reading and studying, this is my 5th day of just editing (and retyping), and my first with the new, ergonomic keyboard.

I need a nap. And more coffee. And then, to get back at it!

Books: Photo Book Experiments

These lay-flat books, which have no center seams because it is built of glued spreads instead of stitched like a normal sewn binding, arrive in a beautiful, fancy, padded box, making this clearly a great gift or special event type of book. The hard cover images are great; they are lovely overall.
(The bright spot ear the top center is from sunlight coming through a gap in the blinds: it isn’t the book itself.)

Before I began my big project of rewriting my first novella into a proper novel, I laid out a monochrome photo book of horizontal images I’ve taken of recent architecture downtown.

Blurb is a local self-publishing, art-book-printing powerhouse that I’ve used for more than a dozen projects. I decided to try out their new, continuous-spread books with a subset of this body of work.

The book is printed beautifully – so beautifully, that I sent a copy to another photographer friend, to inspire him to use them as well! 🙂 (He will!). I’m really happy I laid this out and ordered it.

The flaws with the book are with my choice to make it so short: the samples I chose create a photo essay that doesn’t show off the range of architecture I intend to highlight.

I have the images to make it much more comprehensive, but need to re-shoot some reflections (I’m using a rangefinder, and I boggle it with reflections taken through wires of complex surfaces), and be very thoughtful in planning the layouts once I expand it. I’ll likely use Blurb’s regular premium book type (which is sewn/glued like ordinary books), to get a much longer book with a wider range of layouts than I chose this time.

Book: The Cruelty is the Point by Adam Serwer

The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump’s America
by Adam Serwer
published by One World (Penguin Random House), New York

American political discourse has been disturbing and authoritarian in recent years, and the seriousness of it has made it tempting to look away and focus on small, manageable things in our personal lives. To help process the past US Administration’s role in all of this, I found it useful to read Adam Serwer’s excellent new book, based on essays he previously published in the Atlantic as events were unfolding, with new commentary introducing them. Named after an insightful essay which reflected on the hateful rhetoric that was embraced by the authoritarian Trump and his followers, this book provides insights and context for the horrors that have been unfolding around us.

I went through a pad of page flags while reading, which was unexpected, but Serwer’s insights are thoughtful and useful enough to revisit. He also cited other books, articles, and authors who can provide additional details and depth on our history, our power structures, and the tension-to-conflict between our stated principles and national behavior. (My to-read list feels infinite already, but some of these are quite promising.)

When Serwer interviews people who mistakenly believe that illegal immigrants receive amazing services and benefits which other Americans do not (much as I read elsewhere of the same demographic groups believing that black people received free cell phones under Obama, or that all black people are given free college tuition because of some big government intervention that I wish actually existed), their hysteria over immigration makes slightly more sense, even while knowing it is based on lies, and even while recognizing their position is a cowardly attack on the vulnerable rather than an authentic challenge the powerful.

Serwer astutely identifies the right-wing’s objections to “political correctness” as a strong objection that previously oppressed groups have standing in society to challenge their abuse. He cuts apart the idea of false, historical “civility” in which white men in power simply set aside the rights of others so that the powerful could remain comfortable, an indulgence that costs the rest of us dearly. I love this sentence:

In Ivy League debate rooms and the Senate cloakroom, white men could discuss the most divisive issues of the day with all the politeness befitting what was for them a low-stakes conflict. Outside, the people whose rights were actually at stake were fighting and dying to have those rights recognized.

I appreciate Serwer’s insights on US police abuses of (and more specifically for) power, how the brief history of policing within the U.S. has been problematic in a range of disturbing ways since the outset of public police departments in the 1800s, and how domestic police cultures have long held authoritarian leanings. His writing helped remind and clarify for me that publicly funded police represent the interests of the entrenched powerful, and those entrenched powerful (and those who look like them) benefit from a historically exploitative status quo that allowed them to come to power. This loyalty to power makes much more sense from observable routine events of police violence than an idea that the police exist primarily to support actual laws or the public at large.

Adam Serwer’s journalism and analyses make a great book, and this collection provides clear insights on the challenges and outright dangers we face in the U.S. Published this year, its essays take us right up to the current moment, and will remain highly relevant for the foreseeable future. I recommend it highly.

Books: My Books in Development

I had an interesting experience over the weekend, which was reading a novella that I wrote (!) in 2004, to see if I think it is viable for development into a full novel.

At the time I wrote it, I was concerned that it was too fresh in my mind to evaluate properly, so I set it aside and wrote three more novellas, one each in subsequent years, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Then I allowed my demanding job(s) to take over my life again. Now that so very much time as passed, I thought I’d see if it is worth working on.

The answer, to my own surprise, is YES.

Editing and expanding on a draft novel is a HUGE project, and… I’m a bit alarmed and intimidated.

But… I’m already more than 50,000 words committed! Why NOT develop it?? I was briefly indignant while reading about some confident middle schooler seeking agents to publish the first thing they ever wrote, before realizing that nothing is preventing me from taking similar steps. (Aside from my career, haha!)

I want to spruce it up and build it out a bit more, since the feedback I got from another writer is that there SHOULD be more of it – it held his interest all the way through, and he wanted to read more to read within the same story.

Editing a novel can take months or years, so I’m unsure how to set a schedule for myself on this. But I know it is worth starting, at the very least.

** ~ **

Meanwhile, I spent most of my energy yesterday laying out a new photography book, and… I’m supposed to do the same today!

It has been a while since I laid one out properly, and there are some new features at my favorite book printer, Blurb, that I am testing out. (I’ll write about those once my prototype arrives.)

I have laid out and self-published photo books before: eleven of them, including nine volumes of my iPhone 1 photo diary (!) and two thematic/place-based photo essay books. Blurb, which is based here in my hometown of San Francisco, does a beautiful job in printing and binding them, and provides a great online storefront to sell and display them. Their services are superb.

My best book so far was just an ordinary travel photography book, which I know is an awkward genre. Local photographers do the best work of documenting their location, because they see it in all seasons and in all of the lighting variations that occur over a year – there are photos local photographers take that a visitor is sure to miss. Visitors are subject to whatever the weather happens to be. I was just an outsider-tourist visiting during a cold and stormy month, and will never see these sites in all the familiar glory of a local who loves where they are every day.

Just the same, the process of creating this particular book was good for me. I had to think about photos as a set, rather than individually; think about how to lay them out, and how page spreads relate to each other; and learned how to mix slightly higher resolution digital images (from my whopping 4 megapixel digital camera of the time (weeping sound)) with very low resolution ones (from my iPhone 1), which inspired me to use some special effects to make use of the low-res images’ softness.

While I was taking photos for this book, I was continuing my (ordinarily domestic) phone photo diary practice, which also resulted in a Blurb book as part of my photo diary series. This was educational in different ways, most relating to its different content from my efforts to follow conventions in my formal work.

My phone photos are created for my own satisfaction, rather than to attempt to impress others or formally document some monument, and so are casual. I take photos of details at odd angles that won’t be good for drawing; I photograph ads and menus; I intentionally take photos of crowds of tourists at tourist sites, and especially enjoy photographing other people photographing. That isn’t the sort of thing included in most artsy/destination books, but are true to my experience of a place. (Note: Sylvia Plachy does a GREAT job of photos of people at tourist sites, though she brilliantly captures their personal drama at a level I cannot hope to achieve!). My phone photos show that I take photos of ads, signs, trash, art museum displays, selfies, and things I want to buy in shop windows, and the result is more…. comprehensive? Realistic? Varied in subject matter and more contemporary in representation? Maybe all of those things.

Under self-imposed rules of my phone-photo diary series, I also had to include EVERY photo I took in the book, so there was no editing of either content or the resulting jpeg files (except for limiting myself at the time due to storage limitations, and awareness that I had this rule). This means the book includes images which indulge my personal quirks, meet social obligations, and capture extremely minor details that are not especially artistic. (I did use some of these as an appendix in the art book, to personalize the book with experiences without including images of myself.)

(Aside: the garden on the cover was especially fun for me: I took a photo OF the other tourists in the designated/popular taking-photos-patio shown here FROM alongside the popular view of the landscape (an image of that appears within the book), and there was laughter from my fellow tourists when they looked away from that view and noticed…)

** ~ **

Back to the present: I intend to produce three photo books this autumn:

  • a book of black and white San Francisco architectural facades,
  • a book of images from an old, plastic-lensed camera from my paternal grandfather’s attic (which I can’t find my negatives for, so this project is delayed until those turn up), and
  • one of new (2021) Polaroid Duochrome images.

I only have one of these three books laid out, uploaded, and ordered. I haven’t scanned a single Polaroid yet, so I’ve got lots of work ahead of me… Wish me luck!

Book: Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box by Terry Smith

Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box
by Terry Smith, J.D.
published by Cambridge University Press

This is a very thoughtful book that I began zealously recommending to others as soon as I was a few chapters in. Written by a law professor, this text analyzes the actions of the Trump Administration and motivations of its supporters, and asks: is the overt racism displayed by the administration and its primarily white supporters legal, and can it be addressed within existing legal frameworks?

Aside from me: For anyone who wasn’t in the US or following news in late 2016, the election of a failed businessman over an experienced and successful female secretary of state is best understood as a reaction by conservative white voters against the party and policies of the twice-elected African American president. While the US has a mythology of cultural openness and racial inclusion, this mythology is usually limited to justifying structures of white dominance with minor multi-cultural visibility. It appears from interviews and studies (included many cited in the footnotes of Smith’s book) that a black president made many whites feel that their unearned dominance was ending, and so they chose a leader with animus against a range of non-white ethnic groups with hopes to re-entrench whiteness as the center of political power and as the only true American identity.

Mr. Smith’s definition of a white backlash, condensed to Whitelash, is very clear:

Whitelash is the reaction of many white Americans when they believe that strides toward racial equality have run amuck, to the point of threatening their own material well-being, even as they remain far better-off economically than people of color…. This fear manifests itself through individual and collective efforts to retain the benefits of a structure of racial inequality, efforts that erroneously cast equality for people of color as discrimination against whites. Thus, the default position—the social baseline—from which too many whites define the normalcy of race relations is racial inequality.

from Whitelash Chapter 1, Electing Trump and Breaching Norms

With an extensive background in civil rights law and discrimination cases, Mr. Smith finds that in most circumstances, the stated intentions of the administration, which displayed clear animus against specific groups, would be legally actionable. From housing rights to employment to labor law and beyond, an announced intention to “ban Muslims” would put DT on the wrong side of the law. The racial animus that animates his followers is harder to legally address, but Smith ultimately proposes common sense solutions to cancel out the local manipulations of racists, which currently roll up to have adverse national impacts for all of us.

Smith’s analyses are methodical and well supported with citations to source materials. As a legal professional, it is what I would expect in my profession and in legal education more than in the popular, general-audience press. The writing is clear, and the explanations of the law are superb, and there are great citations!! (The Apple ebook version has each footnote linked in a way that makes it easy to read them and jump back to where you left off reading. I also appreciate the many colors of highlighting in the Books app, which I utilized extensively. I’m sure other eBook software has similarly beneficial features, but this is the first time I really utilized them, and it made a great impression.)

Thanks to Smith’s thorough research, the book goes beyond law and features many amazing quotes and references to other worthwhile books that delve into some of the topics covered. For example, while so many of us can’t understand how voters could sabotage material improvements for all of us, or even vote against policies that would benefit them directly, content Smith cites suggest that people’s idea of themselves as conservatives wins out emotionally over their own specific material situation.

“ In 2004, Emory University political psychologist Drew Westen conducted neuroimaging of the brains of partisan men presented with evidence that both Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and Republican incumbent George W. Bush had made contradictory statements. Democrats were more critical of Bush’s statements, and Republicans were more critical of Kerry’s. The neuroimaging revealed that the portion of the brain associated with reasoning—the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—played no role in eliciting the partisans’ responses to the candidates’ statements. Instead, the emotion circuits of the brain lit up when the subjects responded.”

(emphasis mine)

This helps me understand why people would vote against getting life-saving healthcare, for example – their political self-image has no room for such things, and their emotional fears of not being first in line, or of anything good happening for people who look different from themselves, kills such support outright. (You can see this in discussions of the national healthcare program: people whose lives were saved by “Obamacare” have spoken out to say they had opposed the idea on principle, while others said they opposed “Obamacare” but supported the “ACA,” – even though they are the same thing. One label offended their political identity.)

It can be painful to relive some of the terrible, racist actions, statements, and policies that were made during the time period covered, but it is also useful to see these actions against non-white and non-Republican groups as part of a long term pattern and strategy (with source citations!), rather than in the outrage-of-the-day coverage that we had at the time.

In summary: this is the best book I’ve read on the topic of political racism and its impacts in the United States. With a wealth of citations, clear writing, book recommendations on related topics, and a thoughtful and logical approach to analyzing the pretexts under which racism operates, I feel enriched by having read it. I feel even more confident in my support for necessary democratic reforms than I previously did. I highly recommend it.

Reading (about books)

Here I’m going to admit that when I’m not reading books, I am often… reading ABOUT books.

Setting aside my more-than-full-time job, artistic practices, Internet research rabbit holes, language study, long walks, and correspondence, there are still sometimes hours left in the day (especially if I don’t sleep) to read about books! 😀 You just have to look, and the time is THERE. (Give up television: it doesn’t lead to enough good books!)

I wind up reading about books even if I don’t plan to.

Even people I follow on Twitter are either already published authors, or they become published authors after I start following them. (Can I take credit for this somehow?) (I’ll be reviewing more of their books on this site, so I don’t have to list those now.)

Periodicals: The newspapers I subscribe to review books frequently and enthusiastically, and I often make note of their recommendations.

Washington Post Books

Guardian (UK) Books

Local Publishers: We have some!

City Lights: City Lights is a landmark local bookshop AND a publisher, especially known for poetry.

Chronicle Books: Chronicle Books is a local publisher, and their emphasis keeps shifting, so I’m unsure what their specialty is now. They published a favorite technical alternative photographic process book, and a great how-to on fabric design patterns. They currently seem big into cookbooks and lifestyle/decor.

McSweeney’s Books: I subscribe to Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (an outrageously well designed periodical packed with illustrations and short fiction), and it happens that McSweeney’s ALSO publishes books.

Specialty Publishers: as an artist and art book collector, I have many favorite publishers, including museums (though publishing is a sideline for them). Dedicated photo/art book publishers often have great websites and blogs (and some have their own bookshops!), which I visit just to see what they are up to, and invariably find something that fits my interests. This short list is organized based on the number of books by each I possess:

Phaidon: Based in the UK and NYC, has a bookshop in New York City, and the only time I don’t leave that shop with a bag full of books is when I’d pre-ordered their most tempting new publications. (I’m ridiculous.). I like them for fine art and art theory. There’s a special series of artist monographs that they do in a great style, and I have dreams of being featured by them someday…

Aperture: Based in New York City. Aperture is a non-profit, which publishes a great magazine and produces beautiful photography books.

Taschen: Based in Köln (Cologne), Germany. I like Taschen for their architecture compilations.

Gingko Press is based in Berkeley, California. Gingko produces books on art and design – their graphic design books in particular are especially attractive.

Be cautious: you’ll feel money trying to fly out of your bank account just by glancing at any of these sites!

Book: Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art edited by Ethel Seno

Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art
edited by Ethel Seno, with essays. by other contributors
published by Taschen, Köln (Cologne), Germany

This oversized book flew into my arms once I realized it included guerrilla gardens AND painted street art AND sculptural interventions AND abstract art… I believe this was one of those books that I bought in a museum shop while traveling, which complicated my return home because my luggage became too heavy…

This well produced book (Taschen makes well designed and printed art books) has a diverse set of urban art interventions, supported by a mix of good-plus-a-bit-stuffy essays about the value of unauthorized art installations. Is street art really at the level of Luther nailing his theses to the church door? (Me: Nope!) Can it be transformative and important and beneficial? (Me: Yes!). Is it a reclamation of public space back from advertising? (Me: sometimes, but not always.) I admit that I have preconceived notions (tagging = bad, graffiti pieces = good, gulf between those two things = huge), and the essays didn’t change my views, but maybe I’ve just been spoiled by living in a great mural city, and didn’t need to be won over for the value of these contributions to urban environments. I appreciate the attempt to distinguish vandalism from expression, though it is difficult to make broad generalizations – it’s more of a case-by-case evaluation.

The book includes some solid old-school works that are worth knowing about, and gives NYC a lot of the credit it deserves (hooray!) for being such a huge influence on global street art culture. The book doesn’t limit itself to NYC, of course, and shows great examples of work in different media from around the world. (I recognize multiple SF artists in here – hooray!)

The big value for me was showing me works I hadn’t seen by artists I knew, or identifying things I’d seen in passing and tying them to specific artists/places/details. You know an art book is good when you get inspired to do more research, and I came away with a list of things to seek out.

This is a solid high-level survey of a very wide range of unauthorized works, from Banksy stencils to plants set into potholes in the road to yarn bombing. I enjoyed it, and feel enriched for having read it.

~ ~ ~ ~

P.S. Here are some links (unaffiliated with the book) about work and artists that the book inspired me to seek out more about:

Unauthorized gardens for the community were frowned upon by authorities, which makes the authorities look ridiculous… I’d seen this garden in images before, but didn’t know the backstory. Now I do!

Crateman (in Australia) is charming and clever – I love the unanticipated use of a ubiquitous material. There is something especially fun about its low resolution. 🙂

Somehow, I had never seen the full set of Jenny Holzer’s appropriately named “Inflammatory Essays,” but I am fixing that now, thanks to the Tate’s collection:

Holzer’s website is also excellent and includes her current work (which is GREAT!):

There are several Barbara Kruger works in the book, and I was reminded of how impressive it is to be INSIDE one of her all text installations, such as the one at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. If you ever have a chance, it’s great to stand in a room wrapped in her work.

Book: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
by Kelly Robson
published by Tor

One of the funnier recommendations I’d read for this book observed that it was hilarious that, even in the future, scientists will devote entirely too much of their time writing grant proposals. Yes, this book EMPHASIZES that in a way that feels a bit too real!

Without revealing any spoilers, this is a science fiction story of first contact (my definition of it), environmental devastation, underfunded environmental restoration, practical business applications of time travel, and the risks of the combining those things!

Robson tells the story in a non-linear way, which is fair and even appropriate for time travel stories. Her approach develops an excellent tension while reading: you know from the first page that something will go wrong, but HOW it will go wrong and how the wrongness will be resolved is the mystery.

Robson’s world-building is done well – you learn about the different ways humans have survived the devastation they wrought without being bogged down with too many details. The way the world works is experienced as characters accomplish other things, which is efficient and makes the characters’ efforts feel appropriate. It is great to have some grown-up characters in the book: people whose experience, scientific knowledge, and past successes made them valuable. (I live in a youth-worshipping culture, so this stood out.)

I had my doubts about the book during the proposal writing sections (because, as someone with a procurement certificate and experience writing grants: TOO REAL), but was rewarded for my persistence with a book I couldn’t put down once the time travel started.