Selasa, 17 Disember 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf



A burnt-out quantum physicist has to make the biggest decision of his existence – life or science?

WARNING to Bangers, Bazingans or whatever fans of The Big Bang Theory sitcom call themselves – stay away from Genius, lest it shatter your idea of a quantum physicist, as the television show depicts them to be, worrying about the future of the universe or if the Star Trek TV series will ever be rebooted.

As Steven T. Seagle shows in his graphic novel, quantum physicists also worry about – gasp! – money, promotions, health insurance, precocious children, sick wives and in-laws who hate them.

While midlife crisis is hardly a topic that will send graphic novel readers rushing to the bookshops, Seagle and his partner-in-storytelling Teddy Kristiansen deserve some credit for their second collaboration; it is an interesting and even inspiring read.

Genius revolves around Ted Marx – physicist extraordinaire, or rather, formerly extraordinaire. Having been told he was a science prodigy all his young life, Marx as an adult finds himself drowning in a sea of science prodigies at the physics institute where he works.

Kristiansen's emotive artwork could not be more fitting in portraying the intangible struggles of creativity and inspiration.

Teddy Kristiansen's emotive artwork could not be more fitting in portraying the intangible struggles of creativity and inspiration.

But his failure in realising his childhood potential for brilliance and making the scientific discovery of the century pales in the comparison to his problem of meeting his KPI (key performance indicators) at the office.

His mundane work pressure grows with his mounting domestic issues: putting food on the table and a roof over his family's heads. Then there is a real possibility that his wife might be terminally ill, leaving him to cope all alone.

So when life throws you lemons, what can a self-respecting scientist do? Talk to Albert Einstein, of course.

Yup, Marx talks to his hero Einstein's "spirit" for the answers to his life's problems.

But as he discovers, Einstein's formula, which he has rigorously learnt in order to plumb the secrets of the universe, cannot help him in the task of surviving daily life.

And to his surprise, the big scientific discovery he has been waiting for, the solution to his problem, is closer to home than he realises – deep in the mind of his contemptuously non-genius father-in-law.

As Marx discovers, his somewhat senile father-in-law was once a military guard to Einstein and, if he's to be believed, even Einstein's confidante for a brief time. All these years, the former soldier taunts him, he has been keeping Einstein's darkest secret – one that could be even more devastating than the atomic bomb if it is revealed – and plans to take it to his grave.

This puts Marx at a moral crossroads. Should he do all he can to dig out Einstein's last secret to save his skin, even if it means betraying his hero? Or should he protect Einstein's scientific legacy and lose everything, from his job and family to life as he knows it?

As expected, the graphic novel is speckled with the imagery of atoms and equations, but Kristiansen's emotive artwork could not be more fitting in portraying the intangible struggles of creativity and inspiration. The muted and moody hues reflect Marx's moral quandary, and when he reaches breaking point, Kristiansen lets the pages burst into colourful abstracts.

Combined with Seagle's inventive narration and sharp characterisation, Genius' illustrations capture both the depths of human emotion and heights of the human mind.

Seagle's wry humour in expressing Marx's relationship with his children (fun fact: Seagle is one of the founders of Man of Action, the studio that created Ben 10!), gives a fresh twist to what could have turned into a drab "family drama".

The funniest moments are Marx's exchanges with his son. During his birds-and-bees lecture, for example, Marx takes a liberally pragmatic approach to hem in his hormonal son's carnal curiosity. Without going into specifics, it involves the old carrot-and-stick approach, the carrot being a used car (don't ask about the stick).

Ultimately, it is Marx's conversations with his wife that grounds the story, which adds to the poignancy of the moment he finds faith again in his ghostly hero's truisms: that God does not play dice with the universe and one's world, or some stories, can end with a whimper, not a bang.

Genius and Iron, Or The War After are available at the graphic novels section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail ebd3 or visit

In My Shoes


Tamara Mellon's account of how she overcame adversity in high heels, and the many enemies she made along the way.

THE first time I met Choo Yeang Keat (that's the Chinese name of Jimmy Choo, by the way) was for an interview in 1998.

Our meeting took place in Regent Hotel (now Grand Millennium) in Kuala Lumpur.

I remember it well because he was incredibly down-to-earth in spite of his rising status then as shoemaker to the stars. (Kate Winslet, fresh off her role in Titanic, wore his design to the Academy Awards that year.)

Choo also showed me the pumps that he had designed and was supposed to deliver to Princess Diana before her ill-timed death. "The one thing I remember about Diana was her good heart; she always cared for people more than herself," said Choo at that time.

As our photographer was taking his portrait shots, Choo was self-conscious about his receding hairline. ("Well, luckily you're not a hat designer," I quipped.)

Since then, receding hairline or not, we all know how far Choo – now a Prof Datuk – has come along.

Our favourite shoemaker is mentioned frequently throughout In My Shoes. This is Tamara Mellon's much-hyped memoirs which she co-penned with William Patrick (who co-wrote Sidney Poitier's The Measure Of A Man).

Alas, Choo is not cast in a favourable light in Mellon's book. She repeatedly addresses Choo as a mere cobbler and describes him as a "creative head who in fact had no creativity".

In a particularly scathing scene, Mellon claimed that after a business trip to Italy, Choo had "taken all the free paper and soap and everything else he could grab from the hotel and stuffed it into his bag. It wasn't even a nice hotel we'd been staying in."

She also writes in detail about the turbulent relationship between Choo and his niece Sandra Choi. By the end of the book, Mellon describes Choi – now the creative director of the company that bears her uncle's name – as "still my biggest disappointment".

So if you're looking for juicy gossip and loads of name-dropping, you'll find them here. For instance, did you know that Mellon used to date Hollywood actor Christian Slater? Because I didn't.

But, and this is a big BUT, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt. Because this is Mellon's side of the story – her versions of events – we cannot be sure whether she has exaggerated or embellished situations.

One thing is for sure, Mellon – the co-founder of Jimmy Choo, the company – does have one heck of a story to tell. And while these memoirs make for an interesting read, she alternates between being a fascinating and frustrating protagonist.

From her troubled childhood to her time as a young editor at Vogue to her partnership with Choo to her very public relationships, Mellon offers an account of the episodes that have made her who she is today.

Early in the book, she is eager to point out that: "The Sunday Times once wrote that I seemed 'less an actual person than the heroine of some dicey Danielle Steel bonkathon'. The basic Danielle Steel conceit is to take a plucky heroine, set her on a quest, and then subject her to every villain and viper and obstacle imaginable, which, I suppose, is not an entirely bad summary of my life so far."

In her insistence to cast herself as a Danielle Steel heroine, Mellon often paints herself as the damsel in distress. While she takes credit for almost everything (except perhaps the invention of sliced bread), she points fingers at everyone else for failures. She also complains incessantly about how bad her life is.

Because it's written in snappy conversational prose, reading In My Shoes feels like you're chatting with a friend over a hot cuppa or a glass of champagne. But the chapters are abruptly edited, and the writing is mediocre at its best. The book's last quarter can also be tedious, with its emphasis on the minute details of business transactions.

The first quarter of In My Shoes is devoted, naturally, to how Mellon started the high-end shoe company. When her father lent her the seed money, he cautioned her: "Don't let the accountants run your business." Over the next 15 years, the struggle between "financial" and "creative" would become one of the central themes of her working life.

Mellon's business savvy, creative eye, and flair for design built Jimmy Choo into a premier name in the competitive fashion industry. Over time, she grew Jimmy Choo into a billion dollar brand. She became the British prime minister's trade envoy and was honoured by the Queen with the Order of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, her love for all things glamorous kept her an object of media fascination. Vogue photographed her wedding. Vanity Fair covered her divorce and the criminal trial that followed. Harper's Bazaar toured her London town house and her New York mansion, right down to the closets. And the Wall Street Journalhinted at the relentless battle between "the suits" and "the creatives", and Mellon's triumph against a brutally hostile takeover attempt.

But despite her eventual fame and fortune, Mellon writes that she didn't have an easy road to success. Her beginnings in the mansions of London and Beverly Hills were marked by a tumultuous and broken family life, battles with anxiety and depression, and a stint in rehab.

Determined not to end up penniless and living in her parents' basement under the control of her alcoholic mother, Mellon honed her natural business sense and invested in what she knew best: fashion.

In creating the shoes that became a fixture on Sex And The City and red carpets around the world, Mellon relied on her own sense of what the customer wanted – because she was that customer.

But these memoirs reveal that success came at a high price – after struggles with an obstinate business partner (that would be Choo), a conniving first CEO, a turbulent marriage, and a mother who tried to steal her hard-earned wealth.

This book comes at a timely juncture, as Mellon readies herself for her next entrepreneurial venture bearing her name.

In My Shoes will appeal to fashion aficionados, aspiring entrepreneurs, and anyone who loves a juicy (true?) story about sex, drugs, money and power. And, of course, Mellon's version of how she overcomes adversity in high heels.

Iron, Or The War After


THIS is a book about the aftermath of a long war, in a world of constant winter. An intelligence spy from the Resistance – the rabbit, Hardin, steals secret information from a military base of the Regime …

Wait a minute, a rabbit? What is this, Brer Rabbit the Super Spy? Bugs Bunny Undercover?

With its talking rabbits, goats, tigers, crows and foxes, Iron, Or The War After may seem like something out of an Enid Blyton book, but writer/artist Shane-Michael Vidaurri's debut graphic novel is anything but childish.

It is a sombre and serious look at two sides in a conflict, a brooding look at war, honour, betrayal and death.

The book itself is a treasure to behold – beautifully bound in a red cloth cover, lovingly hugging page after page of gorgeous, soft, watercolour artwork. Every page seems like a piece of art in itself, and Vidaurri uses a mostly greyish-blue colour palette to portray the general sombre mood of the story.

Vidaurri's official biography states that he received a BFA in Illustration from the University of the Arts, and that his work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and publications, including WIN magazine, The Indypendent, and Powerpop Comics. Most tellingly of all, it also tells us that his New Jersey apartment is "filled with many animals".

The anthropomorphic characters in Iron are anything but animalistic.

The anthropomorphic characters in Iron are anything but animalistic.

Whether those animals in his home were instrumental in his decision to make Iron an anthropomorphic tale remains unknown, but it was an inspired choice of medium for this story. His "good guys" are mainly portrayed by the more timid and least threatening creatures – rabbits, goats, and so on; while the antagonists comprise tigers, lions and ravens, animals that we perceive to be a lot more aggressive and hence, "bad".

But there is more to this tale than rabbit versus tiger, carnivore versus herbivore, or good versus evil. At first, Vidaurri's use of animals as his characters gave me the impression that he was looking to portray each character's personality according to the corresponding animal, but his characters are anything but animalistic. In fact, they seemed even more … human than some actual people portrayed in other books.

In an interview with The Morton Report, Vidaurri describes Iron as "The Wind In The Willows meets All Quiet On The Western Front", and it's not hard to see why. While there are one or two more action-oriented setpieces here, the main focus of Iron is on the characters' reactions and mental states as they struggle with the consequences and effects of being at war.

While a little depressing at times, Iron is nevertheless a fine debut by Vidaurri, and has the look and feel of a real labour of love. Just don't expect the rabbits to start munching carrots and asking, "What's up, doc?"


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