comics

Deep breath.

Hello world!

I know it has been over six months since I’ve updated, and it’s terrible. Every so often I would open up my blog and stare determinedly at the “new post” button, but I never managed to muster up the willpower to write an entry. I think the problem was that there was just so much going on in my life, that the task of condensing it into bite-sized paragraphs seemed insurmountable. For most of the past half-year, I’ve been playing catch-up, week to week, with all the things I’m supposed to be and do. I think now, at least, I’m glad to say I’ve reached a point where I’m able to take a deep breath and refocus.

In February of this grand year, I started my training in psychiatry. Working in an inpatient psychiatric ward at a busy public hospital has been hectic and challenging, at many points. But it has also been immensely eye-opening, memorable and rewarding. But more reflections on psychiatry training to come later.

I also did not finish my book. I hate admitting failure: it gives me a cold shudder in the pit of my gut. But it’s true—sadly, I didn’t achieve what I set out to do in my six months off from work. I wrote up to chapter 23 of a planned 30, and then—bam!—life got in the way. And then I lost faith in the story, and I haven’t yet picked it up again. I haven’t written anything for a few months, struggling to find inspiration amidst the busy-ness of fulltime work and study.

A Time article reminded me recently:

Failing is OK. Not failing is not OK. If you don’t flop every so often, you’re not trying hard enough.

I’ll keep trying.

In the vein of cheesy, motivational quotes, I’ve embarked on a bit of a personal mission to be less cynical and more positive. About two months ago, rather uncharacteristically, I browsed “inspirational quotes” on Pinterest and felt immensely uplifted by the words. I’ve even become one of those people with an inspirational quote on my phone wallpaper. I know, I can’t believe it. But being more positive to people around me on a day to day basis has had such a tangible effect. As soon as I shifted my mindset and behaviour, I noticed changes. My day became less stressful. People responded to me more warmly. I was able to be a soothing presence when others were stressed, and to give more to help out. When a coworker was short to me and others, I understood that she was probably stressed out and used to being spoken to in a grumpy manner. So instead of shutting her out, I decided to do her a favour. I think I’ve just realised the magic of returning coldness with warmth.

Anyway, onto some book recommendations!

Non-Fiction

Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik 

stuff matters

This is an informative, interesting and fun read. Miodownik is a materials scientist with a flair for words. There are ten chapters in this book; each chapter discusses a different material in our daily lives—glass, charcoal, steel, concrete, etc—from a historical and scientific perspective. It’s pretty eye-opening and you really learn to marvel at the extra-ordinariness of the ordinary substances around us. Highly recommended.

China in Ten Words – Yu Hua

china-ten-words

Ever since reading the graphic novel A Chinese Life and visiting China at the end of 2013 (and oh yeah, maybe because I’m ethnically Chinese too…ha ha), I’ve been somewhat interested in 20th century Chinese history and the shaping of modern Chinese culture. That’s why I was quick to snap up this book by Yu Hua when I found it in Green Apple Books in San Francisco. It’s a collection of ten essays, each one reflecting on an aspect of Chinese culture from a personal and analytical perspective. For someone living outside China, it’s fascinating. Another highly recommended read.

Fiction

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise & The Search – Gene Luen Yang

Avatar_The_Last_Airbender_The_Promise_Part_1_coverAvatar_The_Last_Airbender_The_Search_Part_1_cover

These spin-off comics are set after the events of the original series. The Promise and the Search are each an instalment of three, and there’s a third trilogy, The Rift, as well. I had my doubts, but Gene Luen Yang’s artwork is wonderfully lively and the story stays true to the spirit of the series. These comics are very fun reads, and The Search is especially compelling. Worth reading if you’re a fan of the series!

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More next time,

Grace

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan/Moloch

311px-Before_Watchmen_Nite_Owl_Doctor_Manhattan

Before Watchmen: DC’s spinoff prequel series to the 1986 genre-defying graphic novel that was Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. This is the first of the prequels I’ve read. I’ve been pretty reluctant to pick it up, because I’ve always seen Watchmen as being a standalone masterpiece, especially impressive as a closed-off, non-continuous work. I like books that are complete, elegant, finished, structured, polished. But the nature of comics universes is to expand and expand upon storylines…even if the original creators aren’t involved and don’t approve.

The lovely hardcover copy that I got my hands on (Thanks, local library! I have loved you since I was three years old!) collects several issues together in one lightweight book. The stories are all written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by various artists. There are some pleasing elements here and there, but overall, nothing astounded me.

I’ll review each character’s arc separately.

nite owl 2

Nite Owl #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Penciller: Andy Kubert

Interesting glimpse into Dan Drieberg’s childhood life, his idolation of the original Nite Owl and eventual assumption of the superhero mask. Followed up by a rather trite and predictable homicide mystery where prostitutes are being murdered and the Nite Owl gets to boink a sexually liberated vice-queen with lots of gratuitous boobs and butt perspectives. The fragments of Rorshach’s past were exponentially more intriguing. 2 out of 5 stars.

Dr Manhattan #1-4 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist- Adam Hughes

Marginally more compelling. Straczynski takes Dr. Manhattan’s omniscient, omnipresent abilities and uses that to tell a story that breaks down linear time and unfolds into multiple possible narratives. Basically expands on the events and potential of Dr. Manhattan as told in Watchmen. We get to meet Dr. Manhattan when he was little Jon Osterman, and also his German father and Jewish mother. 3 out of 5 stars.

Moloch #1-2 collected – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Artist – Eduardo Risso

Entire life story of Moloch the Mystic. Fairly cliche but reasonably entertaining. Not sure if the change of heart towards the end of his career was entirely believable, but I found myself feeling extremely sympathetic towards the poor, sad, pointy-eared chap. I liked this story arc particularly because it showed how Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (one of my favourite characters in the Watchmen universe for his fascinating personality) manipulated ol’ Moloch and many others. 3 out of 5 stars.

dr manhattan before watchmen

Overall, Before Watchmen seems to be a step backward into a more traditional form of superhero storytelling. There were elements that strongly repulsed me, and other elements that I enjoyed. Despite my mixed feelings, I’ll probably try another in the series. I would probably recommend this to Watchmen fans because you do get more fleshed out back-stories to some of the major events of the original graphic novel.