Behind the Scenes for Winter 2022/2023

This winter hasn’t really felt like winter. It’s just been so warm. Snow was here and gone within a week… It’s been warm and wet, which is not what an Ohio winter should be. I ended up spending a lot of time indoors because of the rain, and also it was frankly just depressing to go outside in January and be met with 50-60 degrees weather, so I wound up reading a lot. I also had a lot of substacks kick off in January so the “In Progress” section has gotten pretty big and so will be going under a cut.

A pile of comics and books leaned up against a pile of blankets. The back row has "Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel," "Strixhaven," "Candlekeep Mysteries," and "I Had Trouble getting to Solla Sollew." The front row has the first two issue of "Harley Quinn, The Animated Series: Legion of Bats!"  and "The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour."

Finished:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – A Christmas classic that I’d never actually read before. I was scared of the illustrations in the copy my mom had when I was a kid and then I converted to Judaism and couldn’t be bothered with Christmas—the primary Jewish irritator in December. But I do still adore “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” and there was an email substack like Dracula Daily called A Dickens December, so I thought, why not? I enjoyed it immensely, especially in seeing what made it into the Muppet adaptation. The answer is quite a bit.

I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew by Dr. Seuss – I lived and breathed Dr. Seuss books as a child, but had never read this one. I was gifted it for the holidays this past December because my mom had been recommended it for the philosophy of the book. What did that mean? I wondered, having not read the book. Well, this is the “Now my troubles are going/To have trouble with me!” book that I have seen quoted all over the place on Tumblr. It’s a Dr. Seuss meditation on handling the troubles life throws at you and it’s great. 10/10 would recommend.

Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: Legion of Bats! Issues #1 & 2 written by Tee Franklin – Harlivy limited series TWO! Following “The Eat, Bang, Kill Tour” and season three of “The Animated Series,” which I have still not seen. I am simply not a man who has time for playing TV show catch up, and, honestly, picking this up without watching is no different from picking up any comic series for the first time. Most comics reference things that happened in previous issues/series or other associated titles, and “Legion of Bats” and “The Eat, Bang, Kill Tour” are even more explanatory than most, since the TV show audience and comics audience aren’t necessarily a 100% overlap. I’m a prime example of that. Anyway, Harley is fighting crime with the bat-fam and Ivy is set up to take over the Legion of Doom, what could go wrong!

Letters from Watson: The Gloria Scott, The Musgrave Ritual, The Spotted Band, The Resident Patient, The Noble Bachelor, The Second Stain & The Reigate Squires by Arthur Conan Doyle – Much like A Christmas Carol, I’ve seen a variety of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but I’d never actually read the original stories. I’m enjoying them a great deal, especially seeing how they’ve been presented in a roughly chronological fashion rather than publication order and we can see Holmes’ and Watson’s relationship develop. My favorite currently is “The Spotted Band,” which, while not the first to involve a murder, was the first presented about solving a murder.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos – So, I know I’ve said before that D&D books often don’t need to be read from beginning to end, but when you’re developing your own campaign from scratch sometimes it’s a good thing to do. Strixhaven is also a really cool setting, though the pre-written campaign bits that come with the book don’t do a ton for me, they’re fun, just not my cup of tea when adventure planning. What I do adore, however, is the emphasis on accessibility and queer inclusion. There is official book art featuring disabled students and same sex couples, a whole sidebar about accessibility magic at the school, and flavor text for an NPC about her work running a support network for transgender students.

Candlekeep Mysteries – Another D&D book, a collection of campaign modules based on the sprawling library of Candlekeep and very easy to adapt for a variety of settings. There are some really interesting stories in this collection, each based around a book held at Candlekeep. My personal favorite is “Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions,” which presents not only a mystery about why a book has suddenly turned into a monster but a moral question about monsters and what makes a monster. There’s also another module that has an explicitly nonbinary NPC.

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel – This is another collection that offers modules with some really fabulous and nuanced moral conundrums. It also provides 15 new settings/civilizations based on various cultures of color and written by people from those backgrounds. I’ve talked about this book before here, but at the time I had only read the set up and introduction to the book and the citadel itself and a few of the new setting gazetteers. I cannot recommend enough reading through the whole module and not just the gazetteer, even if you don’t think you want to run it because a lot of world building is captured within the modules themselves.

The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour by the McElroys, illustrated by Carey Pietsch – So this was by far the most changed of the TAZ: Balance arcs adapted as a graphic novel so far. Entire subplots are cut, traps are altered, motivations are changed, Sazed becomes Phillipe. I really don’t get why that last changed happened, but the rest of them I do understand. The Eleventh Hour was a long arc, with a lot of exploring and fucking up and exploring again. There were also a lot of classic ttrpg traps and puzzles in this one that might make a good game and podcast, but don’t make such a good graphic novel. That said, I am sad we lost Chekov’s bush. All the changes are really good though and make for a great, cohesive graphic novel.

In Progress:

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, Volume 3 by Mo Xiang Tong Xu – A flashback heavy volume. We get a lot of the war that has sat in the background for the first two volumes and learn some about how Wei Wuxian developed his non-traditional cultivation style and what he used it for during the war. It comes with the heaviness that war entails, and for a fantasy series I have been very impressed at the emotional weight the loss and horror is given. They are things that haunt the narrative rather just a “womp they’re dead” or “torture happened, we’re not going to mention it again,” which I feel like has become unfortunately common in mainstream Western media. In a turn of events this volume’s primary source of secondhand embarrassment was Jin Zixuan putting his foot in his mouth often and repeatedly regarding Jiang Yanli. I am very close to being done, but just did not quite have the time to finish it in February.

The Letters of Cicero– There’s a lot of navigating politics and such that just goes so far over my head. You may notice that this didn’t appear on last quarter’s list and that’s because I just straight up fell off it. But when Dracula Daily ended I did the back reading and picked it up again. It’s been slow, but promises to pick up in March (the ides you know).

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – Weeping, gnashing and wailing. After the intense drama filled letters that we got at the end of 2022, the first letter of 2023 was a massive hit of relief and happiness. I should emphasize that there was nothing bad that happened, there was just a lot of drama and tension that stemmed from a dramatic misunderstanding. If memory serves there is only one letter left to wrap up the project.

Worst Journey in the World & Scott’s DiaryWe’ve arrived in Antarctica and the work is being “Worst Journey” and Scott’s diary entries have been going out side by side and it’s interesting to see Scott’s writing alongside the writings and recollections of other expedition members, I’m a little behind (I’m a little behind with most of my substacks) and I just finished an excerpt from “Worst Journey” from Bowers’ account of the first depot laying journey.

Letters from Watson: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle – Letters from Watson began in December with a few introductory posts and the early beginnings of “A Study in Scarlet,” which gives us Holmes and Watson’s meeting. Otherwise, the cases are presented chronologically, as much as can be deduced, from earliest to last. The framing of Watson sending out letters is really fun, since Watson is already the one narrating the stories for us. There’s even an enamel pin for members of the substack like is done with the more established Sherlock Holmes societies. The mystery given in “A Study in Scarlet” was finally begun in earnest at the end of February.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – I knew “Moby Dick” was a homosexual book. Logically, I knew this. I have friends who’ve talked the book up, I’ve seen plenty of stuff about Ishmael and Queequeg, I read and reviewed “The Whale: A Love Story.” That said, I was not prepared for just how homosexual “Moby Dick” is as a book, good lordt. Like, I get it now, I get why people are insane about this book.

I’ve been having a bit of trouble keeping up, especially since the readings often cover multiple chapters in a day of Ishmael’s dense and rambling narration. However, since I’m not actually reading the emails, but am instead following along in a physical book, it gives me the ability to keep track of how far behind I am and slowly and methodically work to close the gap. Instead of totally losing track of where I am and just grinding to halt entirely, which has also happened with more than one substack.

War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy – Cause it’s a complicated Russian novel~~ Everyone’s got nine different names~~ Let the confusion commence! I had to do my first character cross-referencing in the introduction, where I also proceeded to get blasted by the existence of Russian writer Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov (pronounced Gon-shar-of). It kicked off in earnest on January 1st and I’m riveted. I attempted to read War and Peace in high school and my memory of it then was just reading it rote without really absorbing anything. This is so different and I’m engaged and following the story and don’t feel at all overwhelmed. I do think reading “Moby Dick” and “War and Peace” at the same time is going to do something irreversible to my brain though.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – I’ve read Les Mis before, the unfortunate Denny translation, and I’ve always meant to read a better one, but it’s such a large thing to start that it just hasn’t happened. Les Mis Letters is the Hapgood translation, which is available online through Project Gutenberg. I’m not sure where it ranks on quality of translation, but it’s in the public domain, which is the important part. I am appreciating getting to take time reading Les Mis this time. When I first read it, I’d just seen the 2012 movie and tore through the book in about two days while at my grandmother’s house without wifi.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly – I’ve read “Frankenstein” before. I thought I remembered most of it. I was wrong. I fully forgot about Robert Walton and his polar expedition to find the Northwest Passage, which is the entire framing device that introduces us to Victor Frankenstein and the monster and the whole damn story. Very much looking forward to digging in a seeing what else I’ve forgotten.

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