James Kochalka's second "Johnny Boo" children's book arrived at the Geniusboy Firemelon household this week, much to the delight of the local children. We gathered the little ones out on our front porch, roasted mashmallows, made snow angels, carved ice sculptures of our favorite Bible scenes, and read excerpts of "Johnny Boo: Twinkle Power," followed by selections from "American Elf," the first three volumes of "Superf*ckers," and then sang and danced along to James Kochalka Superstar's "Bad Astronaut."
It was frolicksome.
Okay, maybe all that other stuff didn't happen, but I did read the new "Johnny Boo" book with my son last night, and at one point he laughed so hard that he couldn't read his part out loud. He was convulsed with joy at the hilarity of the Ice Cream Monster's wiggle power.
I don't know how many of you have young kids, but great children's books are surprisingly difficult to come by. Sure, you could probably name a dozen off the top of your head -- the stuff by Maurice Sendak, or Richard MacGuire, and, yeah, Dr. Seuss -- but even if you can name a dozen, or even twenty, that still leaves over 340 bedtimes in which to read some other, lesser, work of children's picture book literature.
James Kochalka's delightfully joyous picture books are much appreciated. Keep 'em coming!
I also finished up my long-delayed reading of all the "Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne" volumes. I had read the first six last summer, and then I just never got around to Volumes 7 or 8. I have to say that Byrne's run does not end well at all. I had actually read the last eight (or so) of his stories when they originally came out -- along with a smattering of earlier issues, whenever our local general store's selection matched my desire to convince my parents to buy me a comic. So I knew that it kind of petered out at the end, although I forgot that Byrne left in the middle of a story arc -- to go off and do "Superman" from what I recall -- and Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway finished up a really terrible twisted-future-inside-a-bubble-tale for him. Maybe Byrne could have nailed the landing on that one, and his first installment was decent enough, but Stern and Ordway just turn it into an overlong, over-wordy lesson on how not to tell interesting comic book stories. And I like Stern and Ordway -- especially their work from the mid-1980s -- but their "Fantastic Four" work was not their best.
But I do still think that John Byrne, in his prime, is basically my Platonic ideal of a superhero artist. I prefer plenty of other artists these days, but when I think of pure superheroics, John Byrne comes to mind. I don't know if it's his clean design sense, his perfectly-paced action, or his deceptively simple character work, OR if it's just because his comics were some of the first I ever saw as a kid (or, more likely, a combination of all those things), but there's something soothing and comforting about Byrne's artwork. It's just plain pleasing.
The stories in Volumes 7 and 8 aren't so hot. Volume 7 is pretty terrible, actually, with the inclusion of an "Avengers Annual" that crosses over with an FF skrull story, and a whole section devoted to the revival of Jean Grey (even "X-Factor" #1 shows up in its entirety, a comic Byrne had absolutely nothing to do with). Volume 8 is an improvement, but ends with the weak Stern/Ordway issues, and then...that's it. Byrne's "Fantastic Four," which had plenty of memorable moments -- most of which involving Dr. Doom, who appears in the last two volumes just as part of a convoluted Beyonder sequence -- fades away in the end, never living up to its potential as an epic saga. The eight volumes (and I know there's a "Volume 0," but I'm ignoring that one) provide a few great individual stories, but nothing that rises above good mid-80s Marvel comics.
Still, John Byrne is one of the great superhero artists of all time, at least at Chateau Geniusboy Firemelon.
What are YOU reading?