Panel Mania: ‘Dune: The Graphic Novel’

Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel Dune has been adapted into a graphic novel by a creative team that includes Brian Herbert, the author’s son and an acclaimed science-fiction author in his own right, and novelist and comics writer Kevin J. Anderson, with art by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín. The cover art comes from legendary comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz.
In this nine-page excerpt, Paul Atreides and members of the royal family prepare to travel to—and take control of—the planet Arrakis, the only source of “The Spice,” a rare and valuable substance that extends life and human capabilities.
Dune: The Graphic Novel will be published by Abrams ComicArts in November.

Bonus Link:
Objects of Fear and Worship: The Evolution of Aliens in Literature

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation’

Acclaimed science-comics writer Jim Ottaviani and artist C.M. Butzer team with the celebrated biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson to turn Naturalist, his 1994 memoir, into an equally delightful and engrossing graphic work that documents his life and highlights the importance of his career as a biologist.

In this 13-page excerpt, Wilson, in love and recently engaged, heads to New Guinea in 1954 to study his specialty, ants, alone and without high-tech devices, in an intriguing look at how a scientific field investigations were once conducted.

Edward O. Wilson’s Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation by Jim Ottaviani and C.M. Butzer will be published in November by Island Press.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘The End of the Day’: Featured Fiction from Bill Clegg

In today’s edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Bill Clegg’s second novel, The End of the Day.

The book was called “a thoughtful, well-observed story of a patrician New York City family and its Mexican servants” by Publishers Weekly in a starred review that hailed Clegg’s “splendid prose and orchestrated maneuvering.” And Kirkus dubbed the novel “A moody, atmospheric domestic drama with a mystery novel somewhere in its family tree.

This is not the house she knew. While it still stands exactly where it always has—between the steep pine woods and the top of the short, wide lawn that slopes to the river’s edge—there is something different about Edgeweather. Something missing or altered, something significant, but from the lowered car window it’s nothing Dana can identify.

As she scans the surfaces of the house—the copper drains, the mullioned windows, the vast expanse of old brick—she considers the possibility that it is simply the decades that have passed since she was last here that have made the house seem so unfamiliar. The main entrance, with its old oak door, shallow portico, and white columns, had since college reminded Dana of the boys’ dorms at Penn where she and her friends from Bryn Mawr snuck in on weekends. But it now seems more like the front door to an abandoned asylum.

Here?, Philip asks as he slows the car near the bottom of the portico stairs. Dana is still staring up at the house, surprised to see that much of the glass above and alongside the door has splintered, the paint on the sills fissured and split. Philip tentatively asks where they are. Edgeweather, she says, more to herself than in response to the question, imagining what her great-great-grandfather would think to see the place looking so shabby and neglected. George Willing had built the house for his bride, Olivia, just after they married. From their portrait, which hung above the dining room fireplace, Dana had decided when she was twelve that the people were horribly mismatched—an intelligent beauty from a lesser family and a wimpy rich kid. They had a son not long after they married and then the young husband left to fight in the Civil War. He died at the Battle of Hoke’s Run, in Virginia. Of course he did, Dana thought when she first heard the story. Despite learning in high school that Hoke’s Run was considered by historians more of a tactical blunder that led to terrible defeats weeks later, she’d heard her mother tell people that George Willing had died in the first battle of the Civil War. A battle the Union won, she’d noted in the same proud tone she used when describing the house’s grandeur—the six columns that lined the river side of the house, the too-large ballroom, the ceiling which was the house’s greatest extravagance, a loose replica of one designed by Robert Adam that George’s mother had seen in an English country house and described to her son as the most beautiful in the world. It was an enormous production of meticulous plasterwork, detailed with ribbons, urns, and rosettes decorating ovals and octagons painted in pastel pink and green and blue. Many of the ovals and roundels framed paintings—all classical depictions of wedding celebrations. 

The ballroom furniture and mirrors were either original Chippendale pieces designed by Adam or the closest possible approximation. The four large oval mirrors had been salvaged from a destroyed castle in Wales and repaired in London before being carried by boat to Connecticut. These were apparently a point of dispute between the architect and George, who insisted they appear at each end of the ballroom, on either side of the great fireplaces. George, of course, won. But to Dana’s eye, the house lost. Highly ornamented with carved swags and festoons, the mirrors had always struck Dana, like the rest of the room where they hung and indeed the whole house, as gilded evidence of an insecure husband’s fears of inadequacy. Even its name, Edgeweather, seemed off to her—a straining, willful amalgam of the names of more celebrated houses.

And still it stands, she thinks, looking at it now, both annoyed and relieved. Filled with most of the same furniture and decorations, covered in sheets, in rooms darkened by closed interior shutters and drawn curtains. All of it, along with the house in Palm Beach, the apartment in New York and nearly two centuries of cautiously invested family windfalls, became Dana’s when her mother died in the mid-eighties. She sold everything but Edgeweather, which she had not visited since she was thirty-six years old. Real estate agents and even the wife of a famous Wall Street billionaire had reached out to Dana to see if she were interested in selling. As easy as it was to get rid of everything else, it had surprised her to realize that she couldn’t let go of the old house. It still did.

Edgeweather’s only resident now was a local named Kenny who occupied the apartment where the Lopezes had once lived. He kept the pipes from freezing in the winter, the lawn mowed in the summer, and hauled away the giant pines when they collapsed across the driveway. Or at least this is what his emails, that Marcella printed up and placed on Dana’s desk once a month, described. Eyeing the roofline where it meets the top of the nearest column, it occurs to Dana that Kenny could have made everything up and for all she knew turned the place into a casino, which, as she imagines the locals getting drunk and spinning roulette wheels in the ridiculous ballroom, only the smallest, pettiest part of her is bothered by. The part that hates being taken for a fool, or worse, being left out. But mainly the idea amuses her, especially when she imagines how her mother would react. The possibilities so engross Dana that when Philip turns the car engine off and politely excuses himself to find somewhere to go to the bathroom, she does not notice. When he returns, she snaps out of her trance and tells him to drive the car around to the side of the house that faces the river. He hesitates. Don’t worry about the lawn, she says and as the words leave her an old caution enters, slows her breath. Joe Lopez, whose dominion included the grounds around the house, spent many hours seeding, mowing, and weeding the lawn. Dana had seen him explode more than a few times when service trucks backed up onto the grass or when Lupita played there. She once saw him yank her so hard by the arm it looked like it would come right off of her body. Lupita had been holding one of Dana’s bicycles in the middle of the back lawn, eyes closed and counting because Jackie and Dana had told her that once she reached one hundred she should come find them. They never planned on being found. The point was to ditch Lupita, run to Jackie’s, and play in her bedroom where she could not find them. Dana remembers telling herself, and Jackie, that her mother was strict about her not playing with the children of people who worked for them. And she was. But she also remembers calling out to Lupita to ask her to play hide and seek, rolling the bicycle toward her and instructing her to hold on to it while they hid. What surprises her now is that there had been so little motive involved, the cruel impulse so fleeting and arbitrary, so strangely impersonal. She can’t remember if she felt guilty or upset when she watched Joe Lopez drag his daughter back to the garage, but she remembers being struck by how totally compliant Lupita was, how silent.

On the lawn? Are you sure it’s ok? Philip asks nervously, as if he, too, knew the wrath of Edgeweather’s former, now long-dead, caretaker.

Yes, she says plainly, trying to stifle her need to use the bathroom by focusing on the house as Philip steers the car onto the grass. From this angle, parts of the house match her memory—the six preposterously large white columns still evoking the Antebellum South; the slate roof the same high cold lid it always was— but the effect is altogether different, less convincing. Mainly, she has the impression, which she’d never had before, that the house does not belong where it is. That it’s no longer in harmony with the woods, river, and hills around it, and as a result appears less inevitable. And it was that inevitability, its hulking permanence— seeming to have forever been right where it was—which had always been its power.

Late morning sun flames every window it faces. At first the light animates the house with what looks like life, an amused shimmer that could almost be mistaken for a warm welcome. But Dana knows that even before the sun inches past three o’clock and begins to hide behind the hills, the friendly glow will vanish and the house will return to its most enduring air: indifference.

Dana gets out of the car and walks several tentative steps toward the river. Unlike the house, which seems altogether less than she remembered, the river appears wider and more robust. She closes her eyes and listens to the sound of rushing water. She imagines where it goes after it passes Edgeweather, along Undermountain Road, down past Cornwall and Kent toward one of those terrible lakes choked with vacation houses and motorboats. How she knows about these lakes she cannot remember, but she shakes the vision of oil-slicked water and sunburned families and opens her eyes.

She walks to the rocky edge of the lawn where there had once been a small beach made from bags of sand Dana’s mother had Joe haul from a delivery truck parked in the driveway. The beach is long gone and in its place a chaos of river rubble—sticks and beer cans, a sun-bleached grocery store circular, half-buried rocks. She and Jackie spent so many evenings here, obsessively curating collections of river stones, sorting them by color and shape, pretending they were rare jewels from a fairy’s treasure. They’d embellished an old story Dana’s grandmother had liked to tell them about an enchanted family who lived in the woods called the Knees who’d cast a spell that disguised their jewels as stones and hid them in the river for safekeeping. Dana cannot remember the origins of the treasure, nor how it had come to the Knees for protection. Neither can she remember what had happened to all those stones—if they’d stored them each year between summers or thrown them back into the river—only that she and Jackie had been committed to the project and it went on for years.

A smooth fist-sized rock bisected by a dull vein of quartz lies at her feet and she stoops to pick it up. It fits her palm perfectly, chilling her hand as she folds her fingers around its dark gray surface. She imagines her old friend stubbornly hiding behind her metal blinds. She wonders if she’s opened her front door yet, discovered what she’d left there.

Dana squeezes the rock in her hand. It feels good to hold something sturdy and real and from the natural world. With her free hand she rubs a spot of dirt from the quartz vein but it still does not shine. The failed effort makes her both long for and pity the two girls who used to toil at the river’s edge and make up stories about fairies and enchanted treasure. She turns back to the house, looks up at the wide pediment atop the columns. Here, on the third floor of the house, is where she and Jackie spent the most time. It was what Jackie referred to as the “normal” part of the house, because the floors were covered in simple carpets and decorated with soft couches and chairs with modern fabrics. The white-carpeted, periwinkle-curtained room they’d decorated and then slept in most Saturday nights looked like one they might see on a television show set in a middle-class suburb. There were no delicate antiques to tiptoe around as there were on the first two floors, including in Dana’s bedroom which had a canopy bed that her mother claimed had been the bed of George Washington’s daughter. Who died of epilepsy, her grandmother liked to add. Dana’s parents never went up to the normal part of the house.

Dana eyes the crescent window above the middle column.    A memory of being shoved hard against the glass there begins to surface, but before she allows herself to remember more she notices tiny bits of dead vine still clinging to the painted wood beneath the window sash. And then, finally, she sees what is not there. The ivy. The entire house had been stripped clean of its old garment, vines and leaves that once swarmed the gutters and windows, frocked the brick with green in summer and red in fall. How had she not noticed right away?

Of course it looked out of place. Of course it seemed less sure of itself. It’s naked!, she blurts out loudly and pictures an old Park Avenue matron stripped, hosed down, and sent into The Colony Club at tea time. Dana looks more closely at the house and sees many of the bricks are cracked and loose, chunks of mortar fallen to the lawn. She starts to laugh. The sound she makes is triumphant, cruel. She sees the house but at the same time she sees her mother without hair or jewelry or makeup. A vain woman without armor, three stories high. More than two hundred years old, powerless to hide her age or obscure her wrinkles, all the old tricks taken away or no longer effective.

She is breathless, cackling, and it feels exactly right. She has come back for the first time in more than thirty years to stand before this house that is hers but not home—all the brick and glass and wood that a smitten rich kid could assemble in the middle of the nineteenth century—and with the same contempt it had shown everyone who had ever looked at it, she laughs, with such abandon and force that Philip approaches to see if she is all right. She waves him off without being able to make words but catches his eye and points to the house as if its disgrace were obvious. Look, she finally manages, and when he gazes on the place with palpable awe she turns her back on him. His reverence momentarily breaks the spell and she begins to breathe normally. She crosses the lawn and climbs the steps to the long wide terrace behind the columns. In the summers when she was young, there had been white canvas awnings that stretched over wicker sofas and chairs covered with green cushions and arranged around glass-topped tables set with fresh cut flowers. Now there is nothing but paint peeling from the moldings, the columns, and the steps. She sees a thick curl jutting out from the center left column and, slowly, she pulls the long sheet back and down until it reaches the column’s base. She yanks it free and drops it at her feet. She thinks of Joe Lopez again, almost wishes he was still alive to see how Edgeweather had decayed on her watch.

She stifles a wicked giggle as she steps off the terrace and heads toward the side of the house furthest away from the car. She rounds the last column where a library had been added in the 1920s. It was built in the same late Georgian style of the main house and invisible on the approach from the road, but Dana’s mother always thought it looked ridiculous. Her complaint was that its proportions were wrong, suburban was her exact word.

It is here, in the middle of the short glass hallway that connects the house to the library, where she sees the paint. Red letters, outlined in black, covering dozens of small glass panes and the white wood that frames them. The paint streaks beyond the glass windows onto the old brick where the hallway meets the house. Dana stops walking. She remembers her mother in the hospital during her last weeks, Maria Lopez painting her nails with red polish that looked garish against the white sheets and bedclothes, the top of the heart monitor lined with tubes of lipstick and powder. It was a scene so ghoulish and macabre, so far from resembling any recollection involving her mother in her prime, it had, to Maria’s horror, caused Dana to laugh. She is laughing now, though not from the memory of her mother, but in response to the riot of spray-painted profanity. From the other side of the house it sounds like choking and Philip comes running.

When Dana sees him appear, she doubles over with what began as laughter but devolves to a soundless panting. She gestures at the vandalism behind her. But Philip does not look where she points, and it is not the graffiti that spells “assholes” that is responsible for the alarmed look on his face.

Ma’am . . . I . . .

Yet again he is spoiling her fun, but she cannot quite form the words to ask what is wrong. Dana follows his gaze which returns reluctantly somewhere in front of and below her. When she sees what is there she stops laughing. The entire crotch and front of her brown suede pants are dark, soaked through with the reason she had left Jackie’s driveway. In the abrupt vertigo of shock and embarrassment, she stumbles backward, her left heel lands hard on the toe-end of her right boot and in steadying herself she completely loses the thread of where she is, what is happening, who is standing in front of her. Overwhelmed, she squeezes her eyes shut, crosses her arms against her chest, and stands very still.

After a minute, Dana looks up and sees Philip, the shiny black car parked in the grass behind him, and as if she’d vacated her body and suddenly returned, she remembers where she is and how she got here. Philip . . . Jackie . . . Wells. She turns to the house. Edgeweather, she mumbles, recalling her laughter just moments before. Her other heretofore immobilized senses follow and suddenly she’s aware of the wet suede chilling miserably against her thighs, the faint but specific and awful smell there reaching her nose. She does not look back at the paint-splattered windows behind her, but she feels acutely that the house has done this to her, ingeniously retaliated for her heckling contempt. She starts moving toward the car. She keeps her face down as she passes Philip since the only thing that could make the situation worse would be to see the pitying look on his face again. He calls to her from behind, Ma’am, I . . . should we see if someone is home to help?

She stops abruptly. She doesn’t need help, she asserts childishly to herself, fleeing to the car now feeling like a declaration of failure. A cloud that had briefly obscured the sun moves on and light blazes again from every window. Even splattered with graffiti, the house suddenly looks pleased with itself, spectacular. Freshly provoked, Dana tightens her fists and in her right hand rediscovers the stone she had picked up before. Its cool surface, its weight, and the hard quartz crystals her fingers press into give it the feel of a divine weapon.

It is only luck, not strategy or accuracy, that sends the rock into the crescent window above the terrace. If it had landed where she’d aimed, it would have hit the center ballroom window between the columns. But Dana hasn’t thrown anything more than a towel or a crumpled receipt since she was a teenaged girl and so her hand unclenches long before her arm has completed its movement and the rock flies up instead of straight, but with enough momentum to shatter the surface it hits. The bright, cracking sound on impact and the after-clatter of glass falling to the porch steps below is glorious. That she has inadvertently smashed Edgeweather’s highest window is victory enough to restore Dana’s equilibrium, and with it the welcome feeling that she is once again strong and in control. 

Unlock the house, Philip, she says, looking directly at him now.

Or do I have to break more glass to get inside?

Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clegg. From The End of the Day by Bill Clegg, published by Scout Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

Panel Mania: ‘My Broken Mariko’

In manga artist Waka Hirako’s My Broken Mariko, Tomoyo, a young professional woman, is shocked to learn that Mariko, her closest friend, has committed suicide. But Tomoyo also knows Mariko was physically and psychologically abused by her father from a young age.
In this eight-page excerpt, Tomoyo decides to avenge the unnecessary death of her friend and honor her life by stealing Mariko’s ashes from her abusive father and taking her friend on a final journey to memorialize her life.
My Broken Mariko by Waka Hirako will be published by Yen Press in September.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’: Featured Fiction from Jamie Marina Lau

In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jamie Marina Lau’s debut novel, Pink Mountain on Locus Island.
Shortlisted for Australia’s Stella Prize, the novel was praised by Kirkus as “hallucinatory…impressionistic…Hypnotizing and inscrutable.”

SOLOMON’S SINK
An allowance is not the same as approval. When I was nine, my dad handed me five dollars every beginning of the week and then got mad at me at the other end of the week for spending it. This happened for four years until he quit his job at the university.
Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. A beggar in front of the 7-Eleven repeats this, sitting on a cardboard mat.
Santa Coy gives me five dollars to buy some kind of drink for the party he’s taking us to later. In this shop, I buy a red sealed bottle. We’ve become princes and kings.
We take the train uptown to Santa Coy’s home and inside it’s unpigmented; smells like cotton or silk shirts. Air conditioner convention centre, black Rover Defender double garage, bedroom with ivy white walls. We don’t enter his bedroom, we go to his parents’. Big Pollock painting.
His parents’ wardrobe is ideal foot-space. He passes me his mother’s fur coat.
I’m looking at the blood stained on her surgeon’s uniform. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
It’s hard to get blood out, says Santa Coy.
Santa Coy opens a drawer, asks me to choose a lipstick colour.

I pick 466 Carmen of the Coco collection.
Behind it is black tang. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
He says this is a Glock 17 Gen 2. He pulls it out from behind the lipstick drawer. My parents get paranoid. He grins. He holds it unlike cowboys do in movies, he doesn’t touch the trigger. He puts it back quickly.
We sit on his parents’ bed, he does my make-up. I’m becoming a canvas but I want to be the body painted on top of it.
Do you know why your dad was beaten up for real? he asks.
I shake my head and tell him that I didn’t really question it for too long, that it’s not too far from making sense. Santa Coy screws his face up and says, that’s hurtful. I shrug. He draws thicker eyebrows for me.
He faked, Santa Coy murmurs.
What’d he fake?
Santa Coy concentrates on my eyebrows—he’s squinting, jelly for eyes.
I ask him again: what’d he fake?
He says: you know. The stuff we sell. He clears his throat.
I frown with new stiff eyebrows that are drying to the breath from Santa Coy’s lips.
I say: art?
Santa Coy sniffs and says: sure.
He traces my eyebrows, puts his black lint coat on.
He brings out beaten-up high-top 95s from a big cabinet of shiny fresh foot accessories, puts them on, wears a sport bag and we leave.

A red-lit home on the south side, near the docks. Where the houses are close together with green island trees outside. Apartments: building themselves to block the paradise views.
When we walk in, everything gets hotter. Everything is getting hotter, and people are cooling down.

A girl in a red one-piece swimsuit paints the walls red with a wide brush. Later she’s painting a man in coat and tails all red. Sharp rock sculptures around, which people view up close and from metres away, gathering around the artwork in snarky little clumps. An open viewing ceremony.
Around the room there are people naked and others in big coats. They are pink under the big coats and they carry paper bags of sexy bottles and glasses of champagne. Somebody’s filming this whole thing from the next floor up.
Santa Coy’s got a thousand concubines. Some of them young women, some of them young men, some of them old women, a small portion of them old men. They flood to him and he stands in the centre like a dome, and he’s got this grin on his face. He pulls me in so that I’m standing right up next to him. An archipelago. I drink my wine in four gulps and feel nothing. Then I’m in the bathroom and it slowly breaks my brain in half. It’s a slow sawing, friction strategy.
A man has turned up with a bunch of videotapes and puts one into a television in the upstairs section. There are people crowding around to see it and Santa Coy leans over to me. He whispers into my ear that this guy owns the house, that he’s known to do this every time people come over: brings out his old home videos and cries to them while everybody else stands around. And some people say that when he first started doing this he owned more furniture, but slowly got rid of it all so more people could stand inside and watch. That instead of furniture he installed all these rock sculptures, tall and thin and unable to break. That this is why it’s so hot in here: because this man spends all his electric billing on heating, so people will stay. I stare at the home video playing: it’s a video of a little boy watching television and his mother trying to get his attention. Then the scene changes to a family filming themselves singing happy birthday to some kind of grandmother. I ask Santa Coy why this man wants heaps of people watching his personal home videos. Santa Coy thinks for a bit. Somebody shrieks outside. The shrieking continues in spiky intervals. Santa Coy says: I guess it’s some kind of validation or something. That this man needs people to see that he exists, or existed, or some sad shit like that.
I ask Santa Coy: isn’t that exactly what you do? Isn’t your shit the same sad shit?
Santa Coy says, I never said it wasn’t.
Used by permission from Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Coffee House Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Jamie Marina Lau.

Panel Mania: ‘Blade Runner 2019’

In Blade Runner 2019: Off World, the graphic novel sequel to Ridley Scott’s acclaimed 1982 dystopian sci-fi film, Ash Ashina, a blade runner or bounty hunter charged with tracking down and destroying bioengineered humanoids known as replicants, has separated from Cleo, the daughter of business tycoon Alexander Selwyn, whom she rescued and transported to the Off World colonies.
In this excerpt, it’s seven years later and Ash has been tracked by Hythe, a new and typically ruthless Blade Runner hired in the wake of a violent replicant uprising.
Blade Runner 2019 by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, with art by Andres Guinaldo, will be published this month by Titan Comics.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Chasin’ The Bird’

Dave Chisholm’s graphic biography, Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California, is a superbly crafted and imaginative record of a legendary two-year period beginning in 1945 during which bebop innovator Charlie Parker traveled to California as part of band put together by his close friend Dizzy Gillespie.

Organized around six “choruses” based on episodes in Parker’s life told by close associates, the book—a masterful celebration of a musical genius who continues to influence jazz today—offers vivid accounts of his life, his tragic addiction to drugs, and his extraordinary alto saxophone improvisations and timeless bebop compositions.

In this six-page excerpt, the great tenor saxophonist John Coltrane describes when he first met Parker and the transformative conversation that ensued between the two giants of modern jazz improvisation.

Chasin’ The Bird: Charlie Parker in California by Dave Chisholm will be published by Z2 Comics in September.

Bonus Link:
Ten Essential Music Biographies

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘Tomboyland’: Featured Nonfiction from Melissa Faliveno

In today’s edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland, out now from TOPPLE Books.
The debut essay collection from the former senior editor of Poets & Writers earned praise from the likes of Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, which described the book as “a full-dress portrait of a writer whom most readers will be intrigued to know.”
And in our most recent book preview, Quimby wrote:

BDSM. Gun culture. Gender identity. Motherhood (and non-motherhood). Tornadoes. Girlhood. These are just some of the topics that Faliveno explores in her wide-ranging, triumphant debut essay collection. With tenderness and honesty, Faliveno explores boundaries, intersections, and the overall blurriness of life. Melissa Febos says the book is “a gorgeously complex ode to the Midwest that is destined to be passed urgently from hand to hand, an anthem sung by all the misfits in those vast places who have not yet seen themselves written.” And I couldn’t agree more.

The summer after my senior year, I was invited to train at the home of the best softball coach in the state. My coach had arranged the visit, and we drove there together on a Saturday morning in June. The best coach in the state lived about an hour north of my hometown, in another small town just like it, where sports, and especially girls’ softball, carried a long and storied tradition. The coach lived out in the country and had built his own ball field and batting cage in his backyard in a clearing among a dense circle of tall pine trees. He invited only a few girls to train privately with him there.
In the fall, I was going to play softball at the University of Wisconsin, the top program in the state and one of the best in the country. This was the plan. I had interest from other schools, smaller programs in the state and across the Midwest, but I was holding out for UW. After national recruits were made, a handful of girls from throughout Wisconsin were formally invited to try out as walk-on freshmen. I was one of them. Only two or three players would get a spot.
In the backyard of the best coach in the state, I took swings. Cuts, they called them. The two men watched me from behind. I was calm in the cage, my fingers wrapped loosely around the black-tape grip of the bat. I dug my feet into the ground, pivoting into the pitch, finding the sweet spot, and connecting with the ball. I watched it fly up and away, then get swallowed in the black netting of the cage.
I felt their eyes on me. No matter how focused on the task at hand, I was always aware of my body, hoping my coach was watching. That he noticed the muscles in my arms as they twitched and flexed, my hips as they rotated left—as they drove forward, hard and quick, into the swing.
Each time I connected, the two men said, Atta girl. Or That’s it. Or There it is. Each time I missed, they said, You got this, kid. You got this. Or Follow through. Or Eyes on the ball, babe, eyes on the ball. On the infield, at shortstop, I crouched low, my glove just above the dirt. The best coach in the state stood at home plate with a five-gallon bucket of balls and a bat. He drove each ball up the middle, down the pipe, shot line drives at chest height. I stopped them all, scooping the balls from the dirt and firing them to first, where my coach stood to catch them. I launched each ball directly into the pocket of his glove with a loud snap that echoed through the trees around us.
“Thatta girl,” he shouted with each snap, grinning with pride, and I radiated with joy.
When they sent me to center field, the two men took turns taking hits from home plate. Bucket after bucket of balls, their big bodies grunting and sweating as they swung. I sprinted. I dove. I worked harder than I ever had. I caught every ball. I pushed my body to perform each task at the highest possible level. I was the strongest and the fastest and the best I’d ever been. From home plate, a hundred feet away, the men watched me. They shouted and yelled and cheered, their big deep voices like shots of adrenaline, filling up my throat and chest, keeping my body going.
Nothing about that day seemed strange to me then. I’m sure nothing about it seemed strange to my parents or my teammates or anyone else in the community. There’s nothing strange at all, particularly in a small town, about girl athletes and the men who coach them. It’s simply a way of life. I was simply an athlete, training with two coaches out in the country. I was a teenage girl, performing for two adult men in a circle of trees. I was a girl who would have done anything for their approval, to make them believe I was good. So that I might believe it too.
Afterward, soaked in sweat and slick with sand, my shirt and shorts stuck to my skin, my body hot from the high summer sun, I walked in from the field toward the men standing at home plate. The best coach in the state nodded and smiled.
“You’ll make it if you want it,” he said.

I didn’t make it. On the day of tryouts, a cool September morning on the University of Wisconsin field—where I’d arrived at sunrise, the huge silent beauty of the stadium like a chapel—I choked. The semester had yet to begin, but I’d moved into the dorms by then, continuing my training on campus—running the bike paths at dawn, sprinting up stadium stairs, lifting weights during the day, and hitting the cages at night. I was at the top of my game. But that morning, I missed balls in the outfield; I fumbled grounders in the dirt. At batting practice, I don’t remember if I hit a single ball. I ran the bases as hard as I could, but my legs felt like rubber, disconnected from my body. I didn’t make the cut. I still had an offer from a reputable Division III school a few hours north, but I turned it down. It was either the best or it was nothing at all.
For a long time, the words of the best high school coach in the state would haunt me: You’ll make it if you want it. I thought I had wanted nothing else. I couldn’t understand what could have possibly happened. I couldn’t believe what I had lost and couldn’t imagine my life without it. It took me years to understand that maybe, in the end, I hadn’t wanted it after all. So much of what I did—the training, the lifting, the practicing—had been about my coach. Maybe, I started to wonder, it had all been about him, more than it had ever been about the sport. This was the story I began to tell myself, and the one I eventually believed. At some point along the way, I forgot that I had once loved the game.
Excerpt from: Tomboyland. Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Faliveno. Published in August by TOPPLE Books.
Bonus Link:—Freedom in Telling the Truth: Melissa Faliveno Interviews Adrienne Brodeur

Panel Mania: ‘Paying the Land’

In his new book, Paying the Land, acclaimed comics journalist Joe Sacco pays a visit to the Dene and other Indigenous people in their vast homelands in Canada’s Northwest Territories near the arctic circle.

Sacco is there to learn about the history of Canada’s First Nation peoples and their tragic conflict with the Canadian government—and to understand their new struggle with mining, oil, and fracking companies looking to exploit their traditional lands.

In this 12-page excerpt Sacco talks with Chief Dolphus Jumbo and indigenous activists about the terrible impact of Canada’s residential schools and the push-pull of traditional and modern life.

Paying the Land by is out now from Metropolitan Books.

Bonus Links:
Joe Sacco Grapples with Human Nature: The Millions Interview

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Spellbound’

At first, Bishakh Som’s Spellbound: A Graphic Memoir is the story of a leap of faith: Som quits her job as an architect to work full time on a graphic novel.

The book then relays her life story as she grows up in New York City, the child of immigrants from India, and moves through her years as an alienated college student and later, a comics artist who has to figure out how to make art and pay the bills.

But the book is also a memoir of identity by a trans artist, with episodes from Som’s life reimagined as lived out by her cisgender quasi-avatar Anjali.

In this 10-page excerpt we meet Som/Anjali just as she’s about to quit her job. Spellbound: A Graphic Memoir by Bishakh Som will be published by Street Noise Books in August.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.