Tag Archives: Books

Review: ‘La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico’

La-Lucha-Verso-Books

A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.

Lucha-Castro-Human-Rights-2015

Written by Joh Sack, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, his goal here is to put a face to a crisis. Sack does this with a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. The art of Adam Shapiro adds to the immediacy of each story.

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.

Verso-Books-Chihuahua-Mexican-drug-cartels

If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.

“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mexico, War, Verso Books, Human Rights

Book Review: ‘Mindswap’ by Robert Sheckley

Mindswap-Robert-Sheckley

In “Mindswap,” Robert Sheckley plays with his favorite theme of man versus bureaucracy. Whether you are human, or some other form of intelligent life, there will always be obstacles to clog up your path to happiness. In the future, a popular form of recreation is to switch bodies with aliens from other planets. Sounds like a simple and fun thing to do, right? Well, maybe not. It’s a very funny premise that remains fresh and quirky since the novel’s first release in 1966.

Sheckley’s humor is not only unique in science fiction but it is unique, period. It is baroque, erudite, and absurd. At times, it rises to the level of poetry. Like a slam dance, you have assorted titles, rules, and terms fly in the air to demonstrate a world gone mad.

Mel Brooks used to love to claim that, when naming a funny character, the letter K was the funniest. Sheckley proves that wrong as his funny characters end up with the funniest names, K or otherwise. Consider Tom Carmody from “Dimensions of Miracles.” And consider this novel’s main character, Marvin Flynn. It’s both funny and memorable. And the name is stretched to its very limits as it is used in various wordplay throughout our story.

The very notion of reality is opened up for all it’s worth when you’ve got your main character literally leaving behind all he knows, including his own body. What could possibly be worth it? Nothing. But Marvin Flynn needs to see for himself.

The big joke here is that Marvin Flynn ends up engaging in a poor man’s alternative to a vacation to a truly exotic locale. He simply can’t afford to fly over and visit Mars. However, for a reasonable fee, he can temporarily swap his body with that of a Martian who seeks similar thrills on Earth. You know, it’s sort of like apartment swapping but on a metaphysical scale. What could possibly go wrong?

You know those vacations from hell? When everything goes wrong? Imagine you lose your luggage and need to make do. Now, imagine you lose your body. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? So, sit back and enjoy Flynn’s troubles. He does go on an adventure but it’s not what the travel agency had promised. If he’s lucky, he may learn to take better care of the things that matter most, like his very own mortal coil.

“Mindswap” is available through Amazon and you can find it here.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Robert Sheckley, Sci-Fi, science fiction

DVD Review: THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES!

The-Ackermonster-Chronicles-Jason-V-Brock

There’s an early moment in Jason V Brock’s documentary about Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) that sums it up well for science fiction’s journey to legitimacy. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director for “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead,” recounts an episode in his childhood. He is running off to school when his mother admonishes him to be sure he’s not carrying any science fiction with him! Oh boy, what a memory. It goes to show how people looked upon science fiction as something subversive. And they’re right. There is that quality and, of course, that’s something to embrace and celebrate. Back in the early days, as science fiction was coming into its own in pulp fiction and beyond, there came along an individual who would prove to be a perfect spokesperson for the genre, Forrest J Ackerman. “The Ackermonster Chronicles!” faithfully presents to you a vivid picture of a world, a people, an art form, and a person who led the way.

Nothing gets lost in shuffle here. One seemingly disjointed thing connects with another. The elegant and the unsavory lay down together. Science fiction had, some say still has, a bad rap for having too close an association with pop culture and hanging out with other genres like, God forbid, horror. But we’ve come such a long way. In fact, today, we really have a much better perspective. We, at least the more enlightened amongst us, can see so-called literary fiction as a genre, like any other, and not something so up on high. Yes, we value excellence. The problem used to be that any other genre was spat upon and kicked to the curb by the elite literary chieftains. Not so much today as we find countless combinations and recombinations among all genres. And, anyway, great work will ultimately transcend any label you attach to it. The thing is, you need to be open to anything and the work of people like Forrest J Ackerman have helped make that possible.

So, who was Forrest J Ackerman and what did he accomplish? Ackerman provided a way for the general public, especially a younger generation, to tap into a vital art form that had been getting short shrift elsewhere. We’re talking about a huge world, a whole universe, of creativity. Ackerman did the heavy lifting to create a more level playing field. He collected, he documented, he distributed, he promoted, he displayed, he shared. As the founder of the magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” he opened the flood gates to all manner of fandom and scholarship devoted to a huge facet of culture. This involved monsters, aliens from space, bloody horror, and science fiction. It was a determinedly do-it-yourself gung-ho approach as well as a tempered and highly sophisticated endeavor. He was the literary agent for numerous big name talents including Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and Charles Beaumont. The Ackerman archives compromise 200 complete collections of magazines, 50,000 books, and countless one-of-a-kind items. For over 30 years, his home served as a museum open to the public for free. He coined the term, “sci-fi.” He co-created, with Trina Robbins, the legendary character, Vampirella. To sum it up, he was a one-man gateway.

Forrest-J-Ackerman-1916-2008

What Jason V Brock does with this documentary is let all the significant players on the scene simply talk and let you in. This is essential viewing for students of pop culture, science fiction, and art-making in general. This film will prove most useful to any aspiring writer, especially those down a primrose path to a university Creative Writing program. Wipe away any elitist inclinations you may have. Things are not as they might seem. Those things that go bump in the night may prove to save your life.

You can get your copy of “The Ackermonster Chronicles” by visiting our friends at JaSunni Productions right here. And, as of this writing, I have more to share with you about the multi-talented Jason V Brock. We’ll get to that in the weeks ahead. For now, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this particular weekend (Sunday, March 22), then go check out the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show. You’ll find Jason V Brock there along with a number of other highly talented individuals. Visit the show’s website right here.

2 Comments

Filed under Documentaries, Famous Monsters, Forrest J Ackerman, Horror, Jason V. Brock, JaSunni Productions, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Webcomic Review: DAWN OF THE UNREAD

Dawn-0f-the-Unread-James-Walker

DAWN OF THE UNREAD is a graphic novel webcomic exploring Nottingham’s literary history created by James Walker. Now, this is quite an impressive project in its specificity and its execution. The underlying mission here is to spark the imagination of new readers and have them rediscover the world of fiction and, most importantly, their local library! To that end, this webcomic is interactive and contains very compelling content. A new installment is published on the 8th of each month. Let’s take a closer look at some of the previous chapters.

Above: Artist Francis Lowe discusses his collaboration with Adrian Reynolds for their “Little Boxes” chapter, published on 8 June 2014.

In “Little Boxes,” you are treated to a variety of interesting facts about Batman lore with a Nottingham connection. Did you know, for instance, that Wollaton Hall was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman films? Well, the focus here is the nearby village of Gotham. And, yes, total Batman connection beginning with Washington Irving bestowing that nickname on Manhattan. We end up making a detour to H.P. Lovecraft. This is a very cleanly drawn comic with just the right touch of whimsy.

"Little Boxes,"  by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

“Little Boxes” by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

Read it here.

Above: Cartoonist Steve Larder, with Alan Gibbons, discusses bringing Geoffrey Trease back to life in “Books and Bowstrings,” published on 8 January 2015.

With “Books and Bowstrings,” you get it all. Steve Larder, author of “Rum Lad,” provides a punk aesthetic with his quirky artwork. With the help of some literary ghosts, byway of Sherwood Forest, the local libraries are on their way to regaining the old spirit.

"Books and Bowstrings" by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

“Books and Bowstrings” by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

Read it here.

Above: Illustrator Amanda Elanor Tribble discusses her collaboration with Aly Stoneman for their chapter, “Ms. Hood,” published on 8 December 2014.

“Ms. Hood,” takes up a contemporary Robin Hood theme to great effect. The artwork is bold and engaging. The story manages to fit in a lot of food for thought.

"Ms. Hood" by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

“Ms. Hood” by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

Read it here.

“Dawn of the Unread” is an interactive graphic novel for PC, Mac, iPad, tablet and mobile. Be sure to visit right here.

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Webcomics

Review: LISA SIMPSON’S GUIDE TO GEEK CHIC

Lisa-Simpson-Geek-Chic-Insight-Editions

Behold, “Lisa Simpson’s Guide to Geek Chic,” a new book by Matt Groening, published by Insight Editions. And, check this out, this book is part of the Vault of Simpsonology. Yes, once you’ve enjoyed this book, you can move on to books focusing on other Simpson characters.

Ah, but first, there’s Lisa Simpson and her particular view of the world. How about a periodic table, according to Lisa Simpson? Or her idea of what should be in everyone’s emergency kit. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, perhaps?

While this will win over any young reader, I have to say that this item transcends any age demographic in a very appealing way. This is, indeed, the perfect gift for anyone.

“Lisa Simpson’s Guide to Geek Chic” is available as of May 5, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under animation, Comics, Insight Editions, Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Kickstarter: Comic Book People 2: Photographs from the 1990s

 Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bernie Wrightson, and Dave Gibbons at the 1991 San Diego Comic-Con.


Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bernie Wrightson, and Dave Gibbons at the 1991 San Diego Comic-Con.

Jackie Estrada is a Comic-Con legend. She knows everybody. And she’s photographed everybody. Her work has appeared everywhere, including the recent PBS program on superheroes. She’s been a supporter of Comic-Con from the very beginning and administrator of its Eisner Awards since 1990. She has vivid recollections and has documented them in her first book, Comic Book People, which covered the ’70s and ’80s. Now comes Comic Book People 2 which covers the ’90s. It’s a perfect next step in seeing the history and behind-the-scenes fun that is Comic-Con International in San Diego as well as the Chicago Comic-Con, WonderCon, the Small Press Expo, and APE. And you can make this new book a reality by joining in support of the Kickstarter campaign going on now through March 13. Join in your support and visit the campaign right here.

Press release follows:

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Comic-Con International, Comics, Jackie Estrada

Review: THIS IS GAUGUIN, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Paul-Gauguin

We think of Paul Gauguin when we think of the stereotype of an artist running away from it all to an island paradise and going native. Well, at least that used to be the dream. Paul Gauguin certainly lived it. He remains the most celebrated example even if the details cast a shadow on his work. His was a most eccentric artistic and personal journey. Written by George Roddam and illustrated by Sława Harasymowicz, this is a complex story told in a clear and concise manner.

This-is-Gauguin-Laurence-King

Born in Paris in 1848, Paul Gauguin came into the world during an uprising that would have made the Occupy movement blush. It led the family to flee to another familial branch in Peru, but not before Gauguin’s father died of a heart attack. In 1855, the family returned to Paris but Gauguin’s love for the tropics ran deep. Fast forward a few more years, Gauguin’s life reached critical mass. He had allowed himself to enter into a career as a stock broker and had married Mette, a young Danish woman from a respectable family. They had children, five in all. However, he was developing into a very capable artist. In time, he would establish himself among the great Impressionists of the day. And an inevitable conflict would arise.

Teha'amana, Paul Gauguin's 13-year-old lover

Teha’amana, Paul Gauguin’s 13-year-old lover

We look at Gauguin’s work and it feels all part of a whole. The depiction of young women from Brittany eventually makes way for the depiction of young women in Tahiti. Gauguin follows his idealistic and romantic notions. In the same way that he mistakens the traditional head-dresses of the Breton women as significant, so he goes on to project wisdom and nobility upon the Tahitian girls he meets. There is one girl in particular, Teha’amana, only 13 years old, who he takes as a lover. She proves to be very silent. Gauguin sees that as a sign of great wisdom. More likely, it was a child’s reaction to becoming sexually involved with a grown man. Gauguin explained the relationship as part of the local custom.

What we remember most of the work of Gauguin is an unapologetic embrace of primitive culture. His work is a unique offshoot of the Impressionists’ aim to depict daily life. This book does a capable job of providing context to the most celebrated case of an artist going native.

Learn more about this new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Impressionism, Laurence King Publishing, Paul Gauguin

Review: THIS IS Dalí, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Salvador-Dali

Salvador Dalí is another artist that we feel we know. We can think of one of his paintings of melting time pieces in the desert and instantly identify with Surrealism. Dalí is a prime example of an artist superstar. Much in the same vein as Warhol, his persona was a formidable brand. Unlike Warhol, the antics of Dalí could often cloud the actual work. If you pore over a number of Dalí paintings, then you see something deservedly ranked at the top. Without a doubt, there was both Dalí, the eccentric, and Dalí, the master artist.

This-is-Dali-Catherine-Ingram-Andrew-Rae

In “This is Dalí,” we get another wonderful pairing of scholarly and lively writing by Catherine Ingram and compelling illustrations by Andrew Rae.

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Art books, Laurence King Publishing, Salvador Dalí, Surrealism

Review: THIS IS BACON, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Francis-Bacon

Francis Bacon is a little bit less well known to the general public than Warhol and Pollock but every bit as powerful. Bacon was the product of the vibrant and gritty London Soho scene of the ’50s and ’60s. It was a world of rough trade and intellectuals. It was a bubbling cauldron of sexual liberation and creative abandon. Bacon quite naturally exemplified the zeitgeist. Having been caught by his father as he was reveling in wearing his mother’s underwear, he was summarily kicked out of the home at age 16, left to fend for himself. He wasn’t involved with art at the time, never had formal training, but art became his outlet, and he mastered it.

Francis-Bacon-Laurence-King

The British contemporary art scene was more introverted than the American. It really wasn’t pop as much as personal. Its answer to Abstract Expressionism was a return to the figure and to the self. Along with various other artists exploring the inner life, like David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, it was Bacon who took this soulful approach to some of its greatest heights.

Laurence-King-Francis-Bacon

Funny how some people mistake Francis Bacon with the great philosopher. And how ironic that this artist, by the name of Bacon, would come to paint on, in part, the theme of meat.

Part of Laurence King Publishing’s This is Art series, this little book packs a lot of valuable information. It is quite a compelling narrative, written by Kitty Hauser with illustrations by Christina Christoforou. It will prove inspiring to any artist working today. Here’s a little taste of the text:

Bacon’s training took place not at art school but through the voraciousness of his eye, and the extremity of his experiences. He liked to observe human behaviour, especially when it was governed by instinct rather than convention. His relative lack of a formal education meant he did not make the usual kinds of distinctions between life and art, or between high culture and low. His mind and his studio were well stocked with images from a multitude of sources – cinema, medical literature, art galleries, everyday life – and some of these images inevitably found their way, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into his paintings. ‘Don’t forget that I look at everything’, he said. ‘And everything I see gets ground up very fine. In the end one never knows, certainly I myself never know, what the images in my paintings are made up of.’

Francis-Bacon-art

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Art books, Francis Bacon, Laurence King Publishing

Review: THIS IS POLLOCK, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Jackson-Pollock

Jackson Pollock can still be a slap in the face for some art elitists, and that’s just as it should be. In a lively new art series by Laurence King Publishing, we get a clear picture on one of most significant artists among the Abstract Expressionism movement.

I was at a party, only a few years ago, when a discussion on art began to take shape. Our host, I recall, had a problem with any art outside his traditional taste and this guy, although young, was already quite a conservative old fogey. He lambasted Pollock. I, in turn, explained to him that Pollock’s drip paintings were, in part, a complex dance with paint. Many have attempted to emulate a Pollock drip painting and have failed. The best I could get out of my friend was a nod and wink and his suggestion that I had a perfect conversation chestnut to use at parties. Of course, he was dead wrong. Pollock is no party favor.

Jackson-Pollock-Laurence-King

I wish I had this book to hand out to everyone at that party. Maybe it would have changed minds. Maybe it would have provided information that was new and compelling. As in her book on Warhol for this series, Catherine Ingram tells it like it is. She gives us an intimate picture of Pollock growing up, albeit a rather bumpy ride. And she fills in the gaps on how Pollock grew as an artist and how he came to lead the charge in contemporary painting. His drip paintings would prove to not only take the art world by storm but the general public as well. Peter Arkle provides poignant as well as whimsical depictions of Pollock’s life in the graphic novel-style presentation.

Laurence-King-Pollock

For an artist with a reputation for being a “bad boy,” Pollock actually desired solitude. He found that in the woods of Long Island, along with his wife, the artist Lee Krasner.

Pollock remains a powerful force even today. All it takes is the latest “rediscovery” of his paintings. You can read about one of Pollock’s earliest drip paintings returning to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice right here.

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Book Reviews, Books, Jackson Pollock, Laurence King Publishing