Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stranger Than Life

Published in 2014,  Stranger Than Life: Cartoons and Comics 1970-2013 is the first retrospective of work by cartoonist and artist M.K. Brown.  The Foreword by cartoonist Bill Griffith (creator of Zippy the Pinhead) is a checklist of everything he wants in a cartoonist; Brown fits the bill because her work is "funny, but in a knowing, subtle way", has "easy-to-read lettering, full of personality", "deals with absurd, oddball things", uses juxtaposition, "makes the personal universal and the universal personal", "shakes up our perceptions of normality"--and much more.  The Afterword by cartoonist Roz Chast is equally glowing.  She calls Brown "one of the most gifted and observant comic writers and artists around".  The cartoons and comics in Stranger Than Life first appeared in magazines including National Lampoon, Mother Jones, Playboy, The New Yorker, and other publications. The Introduction to this book, written by Brown herself, says that cartooning contains "the lunacy component", which maintains the that humor, truth, or strangeness captured in cartoons will (hopefully) be understood by others.

I couldn't agree more with Griffith, Chast, and Brown, on all counts.  This book is brilliant!  These cartoons are great fun to look at and read, and showcase Brown's tremendous skills as a cartoonist and artist.  (I've seen Brown's work before in magazines such as The New Yorker, but didn't realize she has such a large body of work.)  The peculiarities, oddities, and absurdities of life shine through in cartoons with unusual titles such as Snakes in the Bathroom, Free Glue Sample, Easy Home Auto Repair, It Happened at the Bank, Earl D. Porker, Social Worker, Lost Sweater Dream, Claire's Lunch, and numerous others.  Stranger Than Life is a very funny, eclectic collection of cartoons and comics.  It also serves as a reminder to look for and recognize the humor present in our own lives.

Show, don't tell.  Right?  Or is it show and tell?  Either works in this case.  Here are some photos of various pages and samples of the cartoons in the Stranger Than Life.  Click on the photos to make them larger.

Some of the pictures are in black and white and gray, while others are in full-color.  


This cartoon tickled my fancy. 

With all due respect to my dentist, this comic strip is hilarious.

It's the people in these comics and cartoons who are so captivating.  They steal the show.  Brown's focus is on people; it's on their faces.  (Faces are fascinating; back in my doodling days, I mostly drew funny, cartoon faces.)  The facial expressions of the characters in this book, which include self-portraits of Brown, are simply fantastic!  The artist captures an impressive, wide range of human expressions, loaded with personality and nuance. Brown's faces are silly, sardonic, perplexed, puzzling, strange, and just about everything else, just like the faces we encounter every day.  Take a look! 


 Close-up of the cover



M.K. Brown is featured in some of the cartoons. She is unmistakable.

The back inside cover is a collage.


Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour, and for providing me with a copy of this remarkable book.  I know I'll enjoy looking at these cartoons and comics again and again.  The humor is very appealing to me.  For additional reviews, please visit the other stops on Poetic Book Tour's tour for Stranger Than Life.

Thanks for reading! Do you also enjoy cartoon and comics? Your comments are always appreciated. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dreaming Sophia: Book Spotlight

é bella! While I don't judge books by their covers, Dreaming Sophia: Because Dreaming is an Art caught my eye, due to its vibrant, colorful cover, which was designed and illustrated by the author, Melissa Muldoon. This author also has a dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta, and a special YouTube channel, to help others who wish to learn to speak Italian and to learn about the culture.

Here is my personal connection to Dreaming Sophia, which I hope to read, and all things Italian. Some of you may already know that I'm part Italian. My grandfather, Luigi, was from Sardinia.  He immigrated to Ellis Island, lived in NY, got married, and worked hard (he did something with boats at NY Harbor, I believe).  Grandpa was a gifted, ambidextrous musician who played the lute (and perhaps other instruments as well), and his eyes changed color.  He was fascinated by geography and was quite knowledgeable.  Perhaps because I was a skinny kid, he used to explain to me that there are three basic body types, ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph.  While I was growing up, Grandpa would bring our family the most delicious bread (and cheese) from a special Italian shop, which was probably the best I've ever tasted.  My mother, Lita Anna Maria, was proud of her Italian heritage (her homemade lasagna was world-class), and I am, too.  I'd love to travel to Italy in the future!

Below is more information about Dreaming Sophia, which was published in 2016, and author Melissa Muldoon.

Book Description:

Dreaming Sophia is a magical look into Italy, language, art, and culture. It is a story about turning dreams into reality and learning to walk the fine line between fact and fantasy. When tragedy strikes, Sophia finds herself alone in the world, without direction and fearful of loving again. With only her vivid imagination to guide her, she begins a journey that will take her from the vineyards in Sonoma, California to a grad school in Philadelphia and, eventually, to Italy: Florence, Lucca, Rome, Verona, Venice, and Val d’Orcia.

​Through dreamlike encounters, Sophia meets Italian personalities—princes, poets, duchesses, artists, and film stars— who give her advice to help put her life back together. Following a path that takes her from grief to joy, she discovers the source of her creativity and learns to love again, turning her dreams into reality.

“Italy is the answer.”

Buy the Book: 

Amazon – print
Amazon / Kindle – ebook
Create Space
I-tunes – Apple Store-ebook
Barnes & Noble – ebook

Author's Bio:

Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta-the crazy linguist! In Italian, "matta" means "crazy" or "impassioned". Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master's degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.

Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta ( Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, "Tutti Matti per l'Italiano" and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.

Dreaming Sophia is Melissa's first novel.  It is a fanciful look at art history and Italian language and culture, but it is also the culmination of personal stories and insights resulting from her experiences living in Italy, as well as her involvement and familiarity with the Italian language, painting, and art history.

As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she'd never need it again but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That "thing" was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there.  Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event! Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency-a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways.

Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is married and has three boys and two beagles.

Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Dreaming Sophia. She also designed the Dreaming Sophia website and created the character illustrations that can be found in the book and on the Dreaming Sophia websites.

Connect with the Author:   Website  ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ YouTube ~ Pinterest

Author Melissa Muldoon with actress Sophia Loren

Warm thanks to Laura from Italy Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour.  For more spotlights of this book as well as some giveaways, please visit Italy Book Tours' other stops for Dreaming Sophia

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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