Today's column is dedicated to the Medina County District Library and the fine folks who work there. Since my earliest days as a Medina resident, the library has been a terrific research tool for this working writer. In recent months, it has become one of my favorite sources for entertainment reading.
House renovations/repairs and sending a kid to college have a way of cutting into disposable income. I turned to the library for those books I wanted to read and DVDs I wanted to view but couldn't afford to buy. The Medina libraries make this easier and far more efficient than I could have imagined.
Any one with a MCDL card can set up an account online. Once there, you can reserve items you want to borrow. If the libraries don't have the items, you can ask them to buy them for the system. They have done this with books I've requested on several occasions. When your items arrive, you can receive a computer-generated phone call or e-mail notification.
Picking up the items is almost as easy. You go the reserved shelves where your items are wrapped with your name. If you want, you can check them out yourself via an automated scanning machine. When I'm in a hurry, I can get in and out of the library in under five minutes. Now that's efficient.
Unfortunately, the MCDL is heading for tough times. A while back, the citizens of the county enthusiastically voted for a levy to fund the building of new libraries and the renovation of others. However, this May, a replacement levy that would have provided 38% of the MCDL's operating budget was defeated by 324 votes, less than 1% of the votes cast. We'll have shiny new buildings with fewer employees working in them, that won't be able to purchase as many new books and other items, and that will be open fewer hours than they are now. That's insane.
I've lived in Medina for over two decades and I would be lying if I told you I understood how some people think here. They come here and buy big houses, but they balk at financing the very things that made the community attractive to them in the first place. The levy would have cost an average Medina homeowner $39.38 per year, approximately the cost of taking a family of four to the movies one time. That's *one* night of entertainment as opposed to a year of free books, movies, and music.
The levy will go back on the ballot in November. I'll have a couple signs supporting its passage on my lawn and, depending on my family/work obligations, will do whatever else I can do to support said passage. This library system is worth it. It'd be a bargain at twice the price.
ALICE IN SUNDERLAND
One of my recent library loans was ALICE IN SUNDERLAND by Bryan Talbot [Dark Horse Comics; $29.95], a handsome hardcover of over 300 pages that takes readers on an utterly delightful romp through the legend and lore of the nigh-enchanted "birthplace of English consciousness." It was a book I requested the library buy and, after reading it, I'm getting a copy for myself. Some works of comic art are essential for the serious student of the art form and this is one of them.
Sunderland moves me way past merely being entertained and impressed by Talbot. Through the clever conveyance of a music-hall performer, this tome presents a compelling history of England, its history, people, literature, economic development, and society, connected by the mesmerizing Lewis Carroll and his amazing works. I think you should be able to get college credit for reading this enchanting graphic novel.
Talbot is a master of graphic narrative timing. Whenever the facts creep towards too dry or too many, he gives his readers some wonderful change-of-pace, be it a bit of ribaldry, scene-stealing ghosts, a dead-on impersonation of Tintin, or a guest appearance by British comics legend Leo Baxendale.
Alice in Sunderland is a book to cherish and to which the reader will return time and time again. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.
My friend Jim Guida started a thread called "Three Movies You Should See - But Haven't" on my message board. His friend and mine Rick Chandler listed BRICK  and described it as "Film noir set in high school. Dark, funny, original, in a Sam-Spade-at-age-17 kind of way."
That sounded interesting enough for me to request a copy of the DVD from my local library.
Rick did not steer me wrong.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Brick is one of those films that grabs the viewer and never lets go, not even after the final fade and the rolling of the credits. Teen loner Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has never gotten over his break-up with ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). When she asks for his help via a note stuffed in his school locker, he shows up at their anointed meeting spot, only to be dismissed over the phone. From there on, he plunges into the teen crime scene, first to find Emily and help her, and then to avenge her murder. His quest shakes up the school from the vice principal to the lowlifes to the theater geeks to the elite to the jocks.
Brick shakes up the typical notion of the "high school movie" as well. It's a world where you can be beat up by order of the local teen kingpin and then be served breakfast by his mother. Most of the players, including Assistant Vice Principal Trueman (Richard Roundtree), are running their own games and, sometimes, Brendan has to make up his own game as he goes along and take his fair share of lumps for doing so.
The acting is superb. Gordon-Levitt leads a cast of riveting young actors: Nora Zehetner as the high-school femme fatal, Lukas Haas as a crippled teen kingpin, Noah Fleiss as the brutal and yet oddly sympathetic muscle, and Noah Segan as a drug-dealing stoner consumed by loss.
The directing and writing? Equally sharp. In writing about Brick on my message board, Rick singled out this choice bit of dialogue between Brendan and the vice-principal...
Trueman: You've helped this office out before.
Brendan: No, I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.
Trueman: Fine. And very well put.
Brendan: Accelerated English, Mrs. Kasprzyk.
Trueman: Tough teacher?
Brendan: Tough but fair.
My own favorite would be Brendan's challenge to Segan and his drug-impaired henchmen: "Come on at me, if you want, Hashhead. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up against the lot of you."
Brick earns its "R" rating for its "violence and drug content," but I'd have no problem letting my 15-year-old daughter see it. Its content serves a meaningful and brilliantly-told tale. It also earns the full five Tonys.
On May 9, we ran the results of Tony Polls in which you were asked to vote on various National Cartoonists Society awards. The awards were given out later that month. Here are the winners (bold), followed by your choices (italics).
Those were the only categories in which you were asked to vote and you went three-for-four.
Our next batch of questions, posted in April, led with this political question:
Of these candidates, who would you be most willing to elect to be President of the United States?
BARACK OBAMA (D).....25.47%
Al Gore (D).....21.74%
John Edwards (D).....10.56%
Rudy Giuliani (R).....8.07%
Hilary Clinton (D).....6.21%
Fred Thompson (R).....6.21%
Bill Richardson (D).....5.59%
John McCain (R).....4.97%
Dennis Kucinich (D).....4.35%
Mike Huckabee (R).....1.86%
Mitt Romney (R).....1.86%
Chris Dodd (D).....1.24%
Joe Biden (D).....0.62%
Newt Gingrich (R).....0.62%
Tommy Thompson (R).....0.62%
Sam Brownback (R).....0%
Jim Gilmore (R).....0%
Chuck Hagel (R).....0%
Duncan Hunter (R).....0%
Tom Tancredo (R).....0%
I voted for Dennis Kucinich, the only candidate I felt entirely certain would be as good as his word. If you asked me to name other candidates I liked, I'd name John Edwards and Al Gore. My personal jury of one is still out on Barack Obama; I'd like him better if he had a bit more experience.
My dream candidate would bring our troops home from Iraq and places where, even putting the most noble spin on our intentions going in, we are now clearly no more than an ineffective occupying force. He or she would support civil liberties, equal rights for all, and universal health care. He or she would champion science, education, and the environment, not make them pawns of business, politics, or religion. He or she would address the soul-crushing disparity between the average citizens and the obscenely wealthy. CEOs should take not home millions of dollars in salary and bonuses when their workers are losing jobs and pensions and their companies are bleeding red ink. My dream candidate would hold President Bush and his administration accountable - criminally accountable - for their deceptions and misdeeds. Right now, Kucinich appears to be the only candidate who shares my values.
As for some of the others listed above, here's where I might just get some people angry with me.
The Republicans are as intellectually and morally deficient a lot as you'll find anywhere. Newt Gingrich is still the scheming, hypocritical opportunist he was when he actually held power. Rudy Giuliani is a fraud who wraps himself in the shrouds of 9-11 after failing to keep faith with the brave firefighters and policemen who serve New York. John McCain is a pathetic joke, a desperate man trying to sell his tarnished reputation in hopes of gaining the support of zealots he once opposed. Fred Thompson is all Hollywood, a Washington insider playing an outsider, the worst of both worlds. As for Milt Romney, I wouldn't vote for him any more than I would vote for Tom Cruise. I set a pretty high bar for legitimate religions...and faiths devised by con man and scoundrels don't make the cut.
Still with me?
I'm not wild about the Democrats either, though I'd rather see them in power than the Republicans. Even the ones I kind of like, with the exception of Kucinich, haven't shown much courage when it comes to speaking truth to power. And there's no excusing Edwards and Hilary Clinton trying to exclude any Democratic candidate this early in the race. For that matter, they should be inviting third-party voices to the stage.
Let good ideas be heard and rise to the surface. The country and the election will be better for it.
Conversely, those third-party candidates should be realists. Just getting seats at the table would be impressive...and pave the way for their future growth and participation. Upending the table would only serve the bigots, liars, and traitors who currently hold power in our country.
You can relax now. That was pretty much all of the righteous indignation I'd build up during my hiatus. Now we can get back to the fun part of the Tony Polls.
Our current Tony Polls questions concern what you like and don't like about TOT. Your ballots will be an enormous help in determining the future of this column.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: