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Review: ‘Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment’

Inside the "Waxworks," the 3-D arm of the Design department at Sideshow Collectibles

Inside the “Waxworks,” the 3-D arm of the Design department at Sideshow Collectibles

If you are into pop culture, and who isn’t, then one way or another you know about Sideshow Collectibles. Either you own some, know someone who does, or some other scenario. The fact is that this is the place that makes the premium items from the worlds of superheroes, fantasy, science fiction, and more. You know, replica figures of Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Poison Ivy, you name it. What this new book makes clear is that items of this caliber are indeed worthy of praise and then some. Welcome to “Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment,” published by Insight Editions.

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For me, personally, I’ve always enjoyed marveling over the various new figures on display at comics conventions. I’m not necessarily a hardcore collector type but, then again, I do find it hard to let go of things. After reading this book, I have a strong desire to just toss a bunch of stuff and make room for one really awesome figure to brighten up a space. Well, at least one. As you’ll see in this grand tour, all the employees at Sideshow Collectibles are encouraged to deck out their work stations and offices with items they hold dear. And, as many will happily tell you, they seem to do best with a certain amount of positive life-affirming clutter. Based upon what I see here, all this clutter is pretty cool and full of style.

Poison Ivy, Premium Format Figure, Sideshow Collectibles

Poison Ivy, Premium Format Figure, Sideshow Collectibles

No doubt, this book is an essential addition to whatever Sideshow Collectible item you may already own. And, if you happen to be pretty new to the whole scene, this book may inspire you. Not only is it a inside look at the fun factory but there’s a fair share of industry insights sprinkled about. Plus, there are numerous extras regarding a vast array of figures. You’ll find a number of inserts like the one above of Poison Ivy coming from different vantage points: graphic design, painting, sculpture, and so on. The book is a total treat.

“Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment” is a 128-page hardcover, all full-color photography, published by Insight Editions. For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under Comics, fantasy, Insight Editions, pop culture, Sideshow Collectibles, Superheroes, Toys

Review: ‘Disillusioned Illusions’ by Greg Stump

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You know those optical illusions where you see an illustration of a boy fishing in a boat and then, once it’s flipped around, you see a bearded lady? Well, how about a vase that, once two shadows pull away, you see two living and breathing silhouettes of a couple of wiseguys? And how about if, once free, they commence to endlessly chatter about various things? Welcome to “Disillusioned Illusions,” the debut graphic novel by cartoonist Greg Stump. This sort of humor is brave and harder to pull off than it might seem. It does one thing in particular that requires skill and a certain temperament: it messes with you, tries your patience, and dares you to see it through to the end.

Panel excerpt from "Disillusioned Illusions," by Greg Stump

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Now, I read and go out and see my fair share of absurdist humor and theater. I get the joke. Good or bad, this sort of thing is more likely to try my patience than not. Stump’s book reminds me of Dash Shaw’s “Bottomless Belly Button,” also published by Fantagraphics. It too is a prime example of something out to test the reader, see how far it can go with subverting expectations. In the case of Shaw’s work, the reader must be willing to take a leap of faith with intentionally arty/bad drawing and meandering plot, and is ultimately rewarded with an offbeat story. But, first, they are forced to decide to stick around as opposed to coast along with something more familiar. I mean, say, Batman is never going to force you to decide. Well, at least the intention is not there.

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

And so, these two wiseguys banter back and forth. The layout and composition is decidedly minimal. And to what end? Is it only to try your patience? Or is it also to stack together something interesting? Or, still, maybe it’s all meant to exist as this offbeat amusement. Let’s look closer. Oh, wait, let’s work with the idea that each silly moment of farce is building on to the next. The two guys begin by figuring out what their roles are. They appreciate the fact that they’re in a “graphic novel.” They realize that graphic novels are supposed to be cool and marketable. And, the longer, the better. So, they begin by padding the content and altering the page count.

The two wiseguys bicker over whether one should wear a vase as a hat. And then a new character, identical to the first two, is brought in to attempt to spice things up. His name is Rodney and it seems his main purpose is to underscore how little plot there is. In the course of events, you do get the feeling that Stump is bringing in anything and everything that might come across his mind. He definitely evokes a frantic and unstable improv comedy set.

Page from "Disillusioned Illusions," by Greg Stump

Page from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Give any artist enough room and maybe they begin to reveal something about themselves or at least about their process. In the case of Greg Stump, he is a notorious kidder. He will pull your leg until he pulls it right off your torso. And then he’ll swing your severed leg above him as he yells out a battle cry. But he is also a meticulous craftsman. Remarkably, what you end up with here is a lot of very funny dialogue and a plot that does grow in a genuinely intriguing and entertaining way. And, most important of all, you will laugh.

All in all, I have to admit that this book grew on me. When it comes to wacky humor, I am open to just about anything. And I conclude here that perhaps it doesn’t matter if the reader or Stump has the last laugh. Because, yes, there is that prankster element running throughout. But the saving grace is an inventive spirit that also runs right along with the smart aleck foolishness. And there are a number of twists and turns as, indeed, one silly element stacks upon another. For those who love offbeat and experimental work, this will definitely appeal to you. Furthermore, just like an optical illusion, there is more here than first meets the eye.

“Disillusioned Illusions” is a 356-page paperback, published by Fantagraphics. You can find it by visiting our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Greg Stump, Humor

Review: ‘Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard’

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Many people enjoy collecting pop culture figures. Some collectors will add an environment to showcase them. What if the sky’s the limit and you could go hog wild? Imagine, for instance, the Joker facing off with G.I. Joe. And have that in a realistic setting. Well, as kids, the sky was always the limit! Your characters didn’t have to obey any rules and you could have all sorts of battles that would never have taken place anywhere else. In that spirit, photographer Daniel Picard has let it roll with some inspired work with icons we all know and love.

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Picard photographs 12-inch figures from Sideshow Collectibles, then does only what a skilled adult can do: create those sort of moments that kids around the globe conjure up just for the fun of it. These are to-scale environments with an uncannily realistic look.

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Actor Simon Pegg provides a forward calling this collection, “a wonderful conversation piece.” Kevin Smith provides an afterword describing Picard’s work as a “salute to all the fun we had with our toys as kids.”

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“Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard” is a 132-page hardcover, priced at $29.99 US, published by Insight Editions. For more details, and to purchase the book, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under Collectibles, Comics, Insight Editions, Photography, Sideshow Collectibles, Star Wars, Toys

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review: THIS IS CEZANNE, published by Laurence King Publishing

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Like Van Gogh, Cezanne (1839–1906) stood out from his contemporaries. He was the original bad boy, or “enfant terrible.” He was brash, experimental, and ahead of his time. Unlike Van Gogh, his life and work is not nearly as familiar to the general public. “This is Cezanne,” part of the This is Art series from Laurence King Publishing, provides an inviting and illuminating look at a most intriguing and influential artist. You will delight in this work, monograph by Jorella Andrews and illustrations by Patrick Vale.

Cezanne

Cezanne first gained notoriety, or infamy, from his paintings that parodied some of the leading figures from the older generation of artists. It shocked. It offended. It was a sensation. And that common thread of sensation ran through his later work concerned with the tactile and immersive. A rebel to the end, Cezanne did enjoy working with conventional compositions (still life, plein air, domestic scene), often with a sardonic twist and, just as often, with a gentle quality.

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Bad boy antics aside, Cezanne was deeply interested in art tradition at its roots, going back to basics of line and color. This was also of great interest to a fellow artist provocateur, Edouard Manet. The two of them lampooned mindless art traditionalists. However, they could both be found in the Louvre studying the masters…on their own terms, gleaning what they needed.

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“This is Cezanne” is available now. Visit our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Cezanne, Laurence King Publishing, Modern Art

Review: THIS IS VAN GOGH, published by Laurence King Publishing

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Vincent van Gogh, the quintessential symbol of the artist. But, just like any public figure, the reality of the person is far more complicated. Unlike popular belief, Van Gogh was no caricature of a madman with a paintbrush. You could say there were two Van Goghs: the tortured soul; and the sophisticated artist attuned to trends in contemporary art. Make no mistake, Van Gogh knew his art and directly from some his most celebrated contemporaries. In “This is Van Gogh,” one of the latest in the “This is Art” series, published by Laurence King Publishing, George Roddam provides a concise and substantial monograph accompanied by moving illustrations by Sława Harasymowicz. This graphic novel format proves to be a most compelling look at the artist suitable for any age.

Van Gogh

As much as loneliness and rejection weighed upon Van Gogh, it’s essential to know that he was just as absorbed with art matters: content, composition, and, most importantly, color theory. Red. Green. Opposing colors on the color wheel. Brought together. They evoke tension. They evoke emotional turmoil. A band of colors, just like the ones used by the local weavers. Behold, their close unison creates a vibrant gray throughout. Black. A more complex and dazzling black is made up by blending multiple colors. Color theory. The impressionists, ah, some became mired in it. Color theory. The Post-Impressionsits, ah, some became too technical about it. Color! Use it. Revel in it. The tension between green and red!

Illustration in "This is Van Gogh" by Sława Harasymowicz

Illustration in “This is Van Gogh” by Sława Harasymowicz

The “This is Art” series is, I cannot stress enough, a wonderful treat and useful art tool. Each monograph is expertly written and the illustrations are from some of the best artists around the world. “This is Van Gogh” is available now. Visit our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Laurence King Publishing, Van Gogh

Review: FERTILITY, published by Centrala

FERTILITY by Gosia Herba and Mikołaj Pasiński

FERTILITY by Gosia Herba and Mikołaj Pasiński

“Fertility” is a beautiful and strange graphic novel by Gosia Herba and Mikołaj Pasiński. The artwork is by Herba and, together, Herba and Pasiński create various work. This book is brought to you by Centrala, publishers of marvelous works from Central Europe.

Fertility-Gosia-Herba-Centrala

Think of one of the darkest tales of folklore you’ve read and then read this. “Fertility” works on a highly uninhibited level. It’s brought to life by Herba’s bold drawing style and held together by a relentless pace. The subdued blue hues running throughout kiss the work with dark grace. Rabbits are being tortured as they fall into endless traps set by the young village women. But the women don’t notice this. They are too caught up in their fertility rites. They know rabbits are synonymous with fertility. And, they believe, that eating their entrails with lead to them birthing baby boys.

Once we’ve witnessed the rabbits’ terror, it’s time to reverse the roles. If the women were callous, the rabbits are beyond heartless. It’s pretty rough stuff but it’s all rendered with poetic fervor. Each panel ratchets up the tension. The rabbits, once in bug-eyed fear, are now the masters. The young women desired fertility, but the rabbits tear that dream to shreds and then some. Herba is completely in touch with sexuality, the macabre, and very dark humor. This content is for mature readers, 18 and up. It’s a powerful work and one you won’t forget.

“Fertility” is a 36-page hardcover published by Centrala. For some of the most unique works in comics, visit our friends at Centrala right here.

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Filed under Centrala, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror

Review: TUFF LADIES, published by Centrala

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Tuff Ladies by Till Lukat

What does Belle Starr, Rosa Parks, and Ma Barker have in common? In “Tuff Ladies,” a new work in comics by Till Lukat, they are part of his kaleidoscopic tour of women in history. This is a most unusual book and quite a page-turner. Lukat has assembled 24 portraits of significant women. He calls his choices “remarkable” but, perhaps “colorful” is a better catch-all word. Or maybe “provocative.” It’s a fascinating collection.

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Profile on Ann Boney, Pirate Queen

There is certainly a subversive sensibility at play here. It’s not so much that Lukat is glorifying each and every woman he’s profiled. It’s more like he’s presenting each figure as a compelling character from fiction. Each woman here is depicted in Lukat’s energetic woodcut-like style. Each profile has its own crazy urgency: a bold portrait followed by a brief comic strip and topped off with some brief text.

The most controversial inclusion is Ulrike Meinhof of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a left-wing terrorist group that committed several murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, and bomb attacks. The overall theme is that all these women made a huge impact. Not all of them are well-known. In fact, Lukat pretty much avoids obvious choices. One of the more poignant ones is for Miep Gies. Thanks to her, the Diary of Anne Frank was kept safe from the Nazis to go on to be known throughout the world.

This book is a treat. It’s a perfect gateway for further exploration. It’s odd, artful, and most refreshing.

“Tuff Ladies” is a 64-page hardcover published by Centrala. For some of the most unique works in comics, visit our friends at Centrala right here.

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Filed under Centrala, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: Pablo: Art Masters Series

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To explore the life of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) is to explore the life of a man who left a huge mark on art, so huge a mark that to take him out of the picture would be, well, unthinkable. To better understand the man, we have this new graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero, simply entitled, “Pablo.”

How better to get a grip on the man behind the legend than to explore his early years. And who better to guide us than the woman in his young life, Fernande Olivier. This is no simple story of love, or friendship, or an artist’s development. This is the great Picasso, after all. However, with Fernande’s help, we get a down to earth look at him. The creators of this graphic novel have placed Fernande in the role she had always aspired to, that of storyteller. Through the script by Julie Birmant and the artwork by Clément Oubrerie, we get one of the most lucid depictions of the life of Picasso, one of the most celebrated and enigmatic of public figures.

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Fernande. Who was this person? Fernande Olivier (born Amélie Lang; 1881–1966) would become a well-known artist’s model and, ultimately, a writer. She was involved with Picasso from 1904 to 1911. She was one of the models for Picasso’s landmark work, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Picasso would paint her over one hundred times. Fernande’s memoir entitled, “Picasso and his Friends,” was published in 1930. It outraged Picasso and led to her agreeing not to publish any more details about their time together until after their deaths. Without a doubt, Picasso would not be pleased with this new graphic novel. Fernande is not a woman easily impressed with Picasso’s antics. As we see here, she is a veteran of Parisian art circles. And she proves quite a match for him.

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Picasso. The world would know his name. But, as for Fernande, there came a point when she no longer had a place in his life. As his star ascended, she only reminded him of the hard times. Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie depict a career that began in poverty and reached its climax with the advent of cubism and modern art. We see Picasso’s art develop through friendships with poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, the painter Georges Braque, and his great rival Henri Matisse. And all through, arguably, the most fruitful and significant time in his career, there was Fernande.

This is a book that provides a fresh new look at Paris, the capital of the art world at the turn of the 20th century. Julie Birmant gives a nod to younger readers by including such terms and phrases as “awesome” and “kill me now” in the dialogue. It’s not overdone and adds a contemporary feel to the action. For the most part, the narrative is straightforward and peppered with intriguing bits of insight. Here, for instance, is a description of the first time that Fernande saw Picasso’s studio: “I still remember the smell: a mixture of wet dog, oil, dust and tobacco…the smell of work.”

This is a very honest and beautiful work. It will appeal to all ages from teen on up. It’s a frank look at the artist’s life and just goes to show that even the great Picasso had to start somewhere and he did not do it alone. In many ways, it’s the very same path that any young artist takes today, including the revelations from reading Rimbaud. Picasso lived that life long before Millennials and this book does a wonderful job of bridging that gap. The young Picasso is made quite relatable and would fit right in any coffee shop today.

“Pablo” is a 344-page trade paperback, published by SelfMadeHero. It is available as of May 5, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at SelfMadeHero right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Modern Art, Pablo Picasso, Paris, SelfMadeHero

Review: A DARKE PHANTASTIQUE, edited by Jason V Brock

Cover Art by Samuel Araya

Cover Art by Samuel Araya

Jason V Brock provides a most invigorating and informative introduction to the anthology he has edited, “A Darke Phantastique.” Essentially, his aim is a return to basics, like Poe’s “unity of effect,” as well as achieve a finer focus on dark fantasy, horror, and magic realism. In his view, and he would certainly not be alone in this, the best horror includes, amid everyday reality, “a touch of the strange,” that dark matter which sets the wheels in motion.

Brock aspires to a more palpable dark fantasy, a fresh new look at the fantastic. Brock provides a chilling and inventive example with his own contribution, “A Darke Phantastique.” It sets the tone for the wide variety of content you’ll find here. Brock gives us a devilishly dark creation myth. We have an initial fear of the unknown that develops into something more. And, in the process, we find ourselves on a most unusual path from dark to light.

Illustration by Jason V Brock

Illustration by Jason V Brock

Leafing through, one story jumped right out at me, with its bravado mix of humor and horror, and I’m calling it this book’s mascot. That’s Ray Garton’s “Lizzard Man Dispatches.” It has a really nice slow boil. The characters are so banal and relatable that you’re quickly lulled into their world of blogging and pet reptiles. A little further in, and we can induldge in all manner of conspiracy theory. Where this leads us is a gradual acceptance of something supernatural and far beyond our control.

The book is broken down into five sections which helps give you more of sense of the book’s vision. There is “Magical Realities,” “Lost Innocence,” “Forbidden Knowledge,” “Hidden Truths,” and “Uncanny Encounters.”

William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch” is another fine tale in the first section. It fits in quite well with the theme of magical realities as you come to find that even a witch is more than she may seem. With a touch of humor, Nolan lures us into the horror that will follow.

Don Webb’s “Lovecraft’s Pillow” is such a bittersweet ode to lost innocence. It is also a hilarious send-up to the whole horror book industry. A jaded best-selling horror author considers himself no better than a fraud. But he may find what he’s looking for when he acquires the death bed pillow of none other than H.P. Lovecraft.

Lois H. Gresh’s “Old Enough to Drink” is quite the creepy cautionary tale to forbidden knowledge. Told with such a gusto, this story blends fairy tales with vivid nightmares.

S. T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time” confronts hidden truths in a fun story. A fractured narrative structure gradually reveals how a criminal gets what he deserves.

Tom Conoboy’s “Phoenix on the Orange River” gives us his answer to a series of uncanny encounters. It’s a kaleidoscopic journey and a protracted dance with Death. It’s the last of nearly 50 contributions in this 728-page book complete with story notes from each contributor. Conoboy’s tale is a fitting end to this remarkable collection.

Among other treats you’ll find here is “Genius,” a screenplay by Greg Bear. It’s the only screenplay in this anthology and it is quite a delight to read. Bear has made his mark in pop culture in many ways beginning as one of the five co-founders of the San Diego Comic-Con. In “Genius,” he gives us an intriguing look at characters caught up in something far bigger than themselves. And that’s the problem, this challenge is so big that it threatens to destroy them and all of humanity. This is a moving story of human connection amid very dark matter. It’s a very good example on what price is paid for genius.

And just one more, the first contribution, Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster,” which is a glorious opener. This is an unabashed celebration of monsters. It is Halloween, and Michael, an actual boy monster, revels in the one night that he can be himself in plain sight. A time for monsters! This is a perfect way to start a book where monsters are so welcome.

And so there’s a taste of “A Darke Phantastique: Encounters with the Uncanny and Other Magical Things.” The book itself is a joy to hold and behold. Great care has been given to making this a pleasurable reading experience. Everything from choice of font to layout to use of illustrations guides the eye. The hardcover is a well-crafted treat. Given the book’s generous page count, it is an ideal size to leisurely pass the time with. This is a beautiful book full of deliciously scary and compelling work. I’m so glad that Jason V Brock put so much care into this collection of some of the best contemporary dark fantasy, horror, and magic realism.

The following lists the contents to the book with a link to or related to each contributor. I think the links are essential as they give you an opportunity to pause and appreciate this book some more:

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Filed under Anthologies, Bram Stoker Awards, Comics, Darke Phantastique, Edgar Allan Poe, Horror, Jason V. Brock, Weird Fiction, World Horror Con