I first became aware of Noelle Stevenson through Tumblr, about five years ago. At the time, she had gained an online following for the comics she drew about movies she’d watched (Thor, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men) and general fandom experiences, like this one. She was funny and relatable, but what kept me coming back were her comments on the depiction of female characters and general misogyny in the comics industry. For example, she drew this comic about her experiences with “self-appointed gatekeepers” who make many would-be comic readers feel unwelcome. Stevenson also started the Hawkey Initiative, where she pointed out the trend of unrealistic and sexist “strong female character” poses in superhero comics and suggested that they could be fixed by replacing the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing. She invited artists to send in their creations, and the results were both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable,
At twenty-five years old, Stevenson is now working as an industry professional, and in 2015 her popular web comic Nimona was published by HarperTeen.
I’m very pleased to say that there is not a single boobs-and-butt panel to be found.
“Grief is the thing with feathers,” eh? I see what you did there.
Read me, he said.
Just because the title grabbed me? I don’t think so. Have you seen my list of books to read? Who wrote you?
I’ve never heard that name before.
I’m his first book.
Crow is an immaculate conception, a virgin birth (not that Max Porter is a virgin, although he might be, you never know).
I’ve never heard of you and I have no idea what you are. I bought three books this week that I want to read – forget it.
I can’t. I am crushed by the weight of all the books I haven’t read. Go away.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Knock. Knock.
But I’m really short. Look at me. You could finish me this afternoon if you wanted to.
Rat-a-tat-tat. BANG. BANG.
FINE. (I throw my twenty-euro bill on the counter like it has personally offended me.)
No need for that kind of violence.
In the summer of 2013, Tumblr was briefly taken over by a curious little fandom – a podcast by the name of Welcome To Night Vale. Up to that point, no one had ever heard of it and those in the know had trouble explaining it to newcomers. “It’s like if Twin Peaks had a local radio show. And there were angels. And an entire civilisation of tiny people hidden underneath the bowling alley. …You kind of have to find out for yourself – just listen.” After a few days of scrolling past pictures of mysterious desert landscapes and fanart of the stars above a glowing Arby’s sign, curiosity got the best of me and I downloaded the first few episodes. An hour later, I was hooked.
Over the next couple of weeks, the smooth voice of Cecil Baldwin became my constant companion as I did my grocery shopping, folded laundry, and waited for the bus (
bus not here why the bus so late). For me, this story could not have come at a better time; after my obsession with the TV show Hannibal and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves earlier that summer, Night Vale‘s strange combination of horror and comedy fit right in. As time went on, I dusted off my rarely-used credit card to buy the crossover episode with The Thrilling Adventure Hour, got a ticket to one of the live shows, and started exploring other podcasts like Serial and The Infinite Monkey Cage. Night Vale ended up being much more than a summer obsession – it was an eye-opener.
I felt bad buying this book.
I felt bad reading it.
And now I feel bad writing about it.
I have avoided Go Set a Watchman as long as I possibly could; every time I saw it in a bookstore, I frowned and looked the other way. I didn’t want to be a part of it. In the end, I did give in. “You’re a literature blogger,” I told myself, “you can’t not talk about this book. You have a responsibility, this is one of things will you have to write about eventually.” So I took a deep breath and bit the bullet. I carried Go Set a Watchman around with me for a week, and every time I took it out, one of my friends or colleagues would point at the cover and say: “I’m so curious! Is it any good?” I have avoided giving a definite answer. “I don’t know yet, I’m only on page six.” “Too soon to say, I’m only halfway through.” Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t get away with this anymore; I have to have an opinion.
My opinion is that this book makes me sad – for so many reasons.
Much like Fragile Things before it (review here), Gaiman’s third short-story collection, Trigger Warning, is a collection of bits and pieces, scraps of stories that he has collected over the years and has now thrown together into a single volume. In the introduction, Gaiman admits that this book does not play by the rules:
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. They should not, in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.
This collection fails that test.
The good news is that the quality of Trigger Warning‘s material does not vary quite as wildly as the entries in Fragile Things did. Some tales are still significantly better than others, but overall, the bar has undoubtedly been raised; it seems that Gaiman is still growing as a writer and getting better all the time, making world domination a likely prediction for, say, 2020. There are still some duds in here though, ranging from generally “meh” to deeply silly, which is why I decided this collection only three stars, like Fragile Things before it.