Tag Archives: Books

Review: ‘Fante Bukowski’ by Noah Van Sciver

Fante-Bukowski-Noah-Van-Sciver

I’d been meaning to read Noah Van Sciver’s latest graphic novel, “Fante Bukowski,” and I guess I was waiting for a good time to do it. I thought I had it figured out: a silly little satire about a ne’er-do-well. It is that, in a nutshell. But, after reading it, I wasn’t totally sure of what to say about it. Well, actually, I had some idea. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Steve Martin in his film debut, 1979’s “The Jerk.” It is both subversively offbeat and totally hilarious.

“Fante Bukowski,” is worthy of your attention in all its irreverent splendor. Part of the humor is that it is quite obvious that Van Sciver has no real axe to grind within the literary community and yet he seems to manage to provide some quite effective biting satire. The bite is not aimed at anyone in particular. It’s more like the Marx Brothers poking fun at the absurdity of life in general. And, it’s safe to say that the pomposity and pretentiousness that Groucho ridiculed a century ago has not changed much for Millennials.

And lest you think this book has anything meaningful to say about Charles Bukowski, think again! Our main character decided to have his name legally changed from Kelly Perkins to Fante Bukowski to honor his childhood idol. It’s, by far, the saddest thing, Audrey, another unpromising writer, has ever heard! Fante meets, or stumbles upon, Audrey during a reading Fante gives of an incredibly brief and ill-conceived bit of his so-called poetry. It is Fante’s dumb luck that Audrey finds him attractive and decides to spend the night with him. To her dismay, she discovers that Fante slaves away on an actual typewriter.

While Van Sciver seems to favor light humor, it also seems that he doesn’t suffer fools lightly either. The following scene can’t help but sound familiar to many an aspiring writer: there is much chit chat over a certain literary magazine at a party and it results in Fante pleading with the editor for the chance to submit some work. After some back and forth, the editor accepts Fante’s half-baked drivel. After more small talk, Fante asks how big the magazine’s circulation is. The editor, without a hint of irony, says it’s a dozen. Brilliant. That, and the fact that Fante is obsessed with using a typewriter does seem to say something about a new generation allowing itself to walk into walls it could have easily avoided.

Van Sciver’s latest subject, and what he does with it, is a prime example of a cartoonist who understands why he keeps going back to his drawing board to toil away. He has made certain choices like keeping the artwork within reasonable limits and cranking the humor just right. This is all in the service of telling the tale of a terribly delusional young man. It’s an absurd story. When it’s all said and done, it is a silly satire about a ne’er-do-well. But it’s an impressive silly little satire too.

Fante Bukowski

“Fante Bukowski” is an 80-page trade paperback published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Charles Bukowski, Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noah Van Sciver

Book Review: DISPLACEMENT by Anne Stormont

Anne Stormont Displacement

“Displacement,” the recent novel by Anne Stormont, brings us close to a woman in crisis. Rachel’s son has died in combat in Afghanistan. That tragedy has spun her life out of control. She is recently divorced. Her daughter, Sophie, is estranged from her. And, now, with her own mother’s death, Rachel feels cast adrift with a loss of self and purpose. She feels utterly displaced. Perhaps one negative form of displacement can be countered with a positive form of displacement. And so Rachel decides to awaken her Jewish roots and make a pilgrimage to Israel. But not before she’s put her affairs in order at the small family sheep farm in rural Scotland. And not before her she meets an intriguing new man, Jack. So much going on in the life of someone who felt at the end of her rope!

I love fiction that brings me into the lives of vivid characters, especially from different backgrounds and cultures. That is what drew me into Stormont’s novel. It is on that first night back on the family farm that Rachel nearly drowns during a torrential storm and flood. And it is Jack who saves her. If Rachel’s life had been more in balance, this could have been the start of a new relationship for her. However, Rachel is in dire need of meaning in her life. And so off she goes to Israel. It wasn’t as if Jack was exactly available either but, whatever the case, Rachel is following an internal flood of turmoil that won’t release her anytime soon. And, in Israel, Rachel will find many opportunities to be out of her element and test herself.

Stormont has an assured way of rendering scenes and creating engaging exchanges between characters. It is easy to get swept up in Rachel’s journey. I share here with you a scene midway deep into the novel as Rachel navigates Israel and a potential new beau:

“Now, come and see the view.” Eitan, grabbed me by the hand. He led me first to the western edge of the crag’s flat summit. There below was the Judean Desert with its terraced golden hills. Then we looked east out to the Dead Sea and I was surprised at the water’s colourful beauty. To the south, Eitan pointed out how the crag’s tail led eventually to the Syrian edge of the African rift valley.

“Enough!” I said, laughing. “I can’t take in any more. This place is amazing!”

“Better than home?”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that. We have some ancient and very bloody sites too, even just in my tiny patch.”

“Ah, yes, your island–Skye?”

“Yes, Skye.” I was caught by a sudden twinge of emotion. Was it homesickness? But homesickness for what exactly? I wasn’t sure. I pushed it away.

Stormont favors a straightforward naturalism to her narrative that she handles quite well. One layer builds upon another. We get to see our protagonist Rachel Campbell at her worst, at her best, and everything in between. It is a pleasure to see where she goes and what she makes of it. All things considered, I would welcome another book on the next journey that Rachel takes.

“Displacement” is a 352-page novel available in print or on Kindle at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Amazon, Amazon Publishing, Anne Stormont, Book Reviews, Books, Kindle

Review: ‘A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened’ by Ivan Walters

Watching "Groundhog Day" on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Watching “Groundhog Day” on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, if it’s cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, spring will come early. If it’s sunny, then the groundhog will see its shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter. So goes the folktale. What better way to celebrate this holiday than by viewing 1993’s “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? It’s an idea that totally makes sense to author Ivan Walters. He takes that even further by offering you a movie for every single day of the year. He provides vital info on his featured choice, a synopsis, plus an alternate pick. The book is entitled, “A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

It’s quite a brilliant concept. The trick is to find an explicit mention of a date in a movie. Inevitably, the date is either crucial to the plot or is part of a pivotal moment in the movie. For instance, say you wanted to view a movie that has a significant attachment to the day that this review is posted, January 18th. That date leads you to 1976’s “Logan’s Run.” and a pivotal scene. To quote the book: “Logan, Jessica, and the old man return to the city on January 18th, 2274 (1:43:40 to 1:56:39), for a confrontation that will change their world forever.”

Movies-Ivan-Walters

This book has a high fun factor to it. Many of the movies are within the last 20 to 30 years with a generous helping of older classics like 1941’s “Citizen Kane.” It is a refreshing and entertaining way to look at movies. It becomes an offbeat game anyone can enjoy while also providing insight. I like how the book kicks off with 1976’s “Rocky.” January is so symbolic, full of hope and fresh starts. I think of “Rocky” as that quintessential shaggy dog story about self-empowerment and beating the odds. Great idea to have set the big fight on New Years Day, January 1st, 1976. Not all the dates are so easy to spot. In the case of “Citizen Kane,” for example, it is attached to December 4th 1919, the date that Kane’s mistress-turned-wife has a nervous breakdown and ends her floundering career as an opera singer. Kane’s world steadily darkens from that point onward.

“A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened” is a 454-page hardcover. For more details, visit our friends at Rowman & Littlefield right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Entertainment, Groundhog Day, Hollywood, Illustration, Logan's Run, Movie Reviews, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Review: ‘Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey’

"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson

“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

The work of Richard Matheson (1926-2013) is certainly suitable for in-depth analysis. It is through an academic lens that you can plumb such insights as the one about the recurring nemesis in Matheson’s groundbreaking novel, “I Am Legend.” As Charles Hoge describes, in this first survey of its kind, the neighbor-turned-vampire who repeatedly taunts the protagonist is part of a literary tradition dating back hundreds of years. Instead of being hidden away in Bavarian castles, vampires were known to call out their victims from their own village. It is a simple distinction like that which Matheson runs with to create one of the most influential books in pop culture.

It was this seismic shift from monsters in castles to monsters in the suburbs that would change everything and influence everyone from George Romero to Stephen King. Yes, you can thank Richard Matheson for the zombie apocalypse. He essentially invented it with his 1954 horror novel, “I Am Legend.” Well, there’s more to it. And you can dig deeper in this first ever substantial study, “Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey,” edited by Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedicke, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

The original “I Am Legend” novel is an elegant and tightly written work. Our protagonist, Robert Neville, must figure out, with Sherlockian exactitude, what has brought about a world-wide pandemic of vampires. It is a prime example of work from the first phase of Matheson’s career. The theme here is man as victim of his own environment. By the time of Matheson’s work on the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone, his theme has broadened to man as victim of his own making. Within these two themes, a multitude of work can be examined. It is with this survey that we receive an essential collection of serious thought on a writer who Stephen King has ranked with Poe and Lovecraft.

In a piece that focuses on the noir character of The Twilight Zone, Cheyenne Mathews demonstrates both Matheson’s artistry and how well The Twilight Zone holds up to critical scrutiny. Cheyenne writes: “Through science fiction tropes of time travel, alternate realities, and new technologies, Matheson emphasizes the physical and social displacement that afflicted both men and women during the attempted postwar return to normality.” And, in describing what is considered the most noir Twilight Zone episode, “Night Call,” Mathews writes: “The second act of the episode conflates Elva’s personal anxieties with her social alienation, as she becomes increasingly disconnected from the other characters, who attempt to downplay her distress.” Of course, there is Matheson’s most celebrated TZ episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but, as Mathews makes clear, it is part of a bigger picture. Outside of Rod Serling, who wrote the majority of scripts, Matheson wrote the most episodes and they were all gems.

A man of his time, and ahead of his time, Richard Matheson has secured a place for himself within not only great science fiction, horror, and fantasy, but great fiction in general. Ultimately, Matheson’s work strikes a universal chord. We can explore the specific era he worked in and how he spoke to concerns of postwar paranoia and shifting gender roles; and, like Kafka, we can place him within some of the most eloquent writers on the human condition. Matheson was weary of being labeled a genre writer. Perhaps one of his fellow writers and friends, George Clayton Johnson, summed it up best when he said of Matheson that he was one of the “serious storytellers whose works were artful gems of wisdom fiction.”

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the origins of today’s pop culture at a deeper level and gaining a greater appreciation of the work of Richard Matheson.

Richard-Matheson-Twilight-Zone

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is a 262-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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Filed under fantasy, George Clayton Johnson, Horror, Richard Matheson, Rowman & Littlefield, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone

Review: ‘The Puma Blues: The Complete Saga in One Volume’

The Puma Blues Murphy Zulli Dover

The Puma Blues is essential reading. And now, after being out of print for nearly 25 years, here is this beautiful definitive collection of the ecological thriller published by Dover Publications.

Look out for those flying manta rays!

Look out for those flying manta rays!

Now, you know what manta rays are, don’t you? They are those large flat-bodied fish, black on top, white underneath, with a long thin tail, a big mouth, and those fleshy horns. Ech! How about a swarm of them flying above your head? There are many beautifully rendered pages of such things in the legendary comic book series, The Puma Blues, written by Stephen Murphy, and drawn by Michael Zulli, first released starting in 1986 and now with a definitive collected hardcover published by Dover Publications. It is safe to say that there’s nothing quite like it.

The Puma Blues Gavia Immer

With its driven protagonist, conspiracy theories, and philosophical musings, The Puma Blues held its own with other ambitious works of the time like, Watchmen. It is both a thriller and a weird mystical journey for our hero, Gavia Immer. Sort of like Special Agent Mulder, Immer is a government agent tasked with investigating a myriad of ecological anomalies, like flying manta rays. Set in the not-too-distant future, Immer is equipped with a transducer gun able to transport endangered wildlife from their natural habitats to government facilities.

The Puma Blues-Dover-2015

Weighing in at 560 pages, this hardcover is aimed to please. Among its extras, is a 40-page epilogue written by the original creators. This work is in the tradition of some the greatest graphic novels and has made the short list of many critics. It will bring to mind Barry Windsor-Smith, Moebius, and Dave Sim, who happens to provide the Introduction. Another great, Stephen R. Bissette provides the Afterword.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Dover Publications right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: WILDFLOWER by Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore Wildflower

When writing a book about your life, it’s easy to fall into having the last laugh. With her book, “Wildflower,” Drew Barrymore has chosen to write a book full of laughter, joy, and wise observations. If a book like this seems too idealistic, all one needs to do is dive in and read it and find an authentic voice.

Ever since spending many hours basking in the glow of the last days of a bookstore that focused on cinema, I gained a fuller appreciation of the celebrity autobiography. After you’ve taken the time to study a number of these titles, you just can’t make generalizations. Often, these works are remarkably insightful. You can only take them one at a time. In the case of Drew Barrymore, she consistently writes honestly and vividly. You can hear her unique voice on every page and it’s a story you’ll find refreshingly modest.

There are a number of fascinating moments that come to mind: Drew’s experience in Africa and how she connected that to learning how to heal her relationship with childhood and children.; her frankness about her relationship with her parents and how she learned to create boundaries; and her recollections of growing up in West Hollywood and how she cherished the little touches of nature, especially the bougainvilleas, amid urban life.

With a great sense of irreverence, coupled with a natural spirituality, this is one book by a celebrity, one very unconventional celebrity, that will win you over.

“Wildflower” is a 288-page hardcover published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

If you are in Seattle this weekend, Drew Barrymore will be reading from “Wildflower” at the Center for Spiritual Living as part of the Seattle Arts & Lectures series.

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Review: THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO MEDITATE by Yumi Sakugawa

You are NOT your thoughts.

You are NOT your thoughts.

Do you like to write lists of goals you’ve set for yourself or give yourself little private pep talks? Of course, you do! We have plenty of bad energy out there to navigate through. A lot of us out there have already picked up on the benefits of self-help, particularly meditation. Yumi Sakugawa has a new book, “There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons,” published by Adams Media. Here, she provides a highly accessible, and quite invigorating, look at a peaceful world full of peaceful people.

Meditate-Yumi-Sakugawa-2015

It all began with an epiphany that Yumi had when she was 23-years-old and feeling very blue. She came to the realization that she was NOT her thoughts. She certainly wasn’t her negative thoughts. It is a simple enough concept and yet it is also a very powerful concept. This is a book that gently, and soothingly, offers observations on how to avoid negativity and gain a better sense of balance.

Yumi maintains a lighthearted tone throughout with her prose and whimsical artwork. For instance, she suggests that you get lost in the woods so your bad mood doesn’t know where to find you. It’s not too lighthearted. It’s just right. These are mind over mind exercises. So, the humor needs to ring true. The inner world won’t respond to a mere joke.

There’s such a genuine expression of joy and reassurance here that you’ll find it irresistible. No right nor wrong. No irony. Just a goal of self-love. Perchance to dream. Ah, dreams are a serious business. The mind demands convincing. Yumi will do this by presenting the reader with a rock. The rock is heavy. Anxiety is heavy. However, once you start to feel the rock’s ridges, it begins to feel less heavy. Yumi invites you to desire a better life without thinking too hard about it. Enjoy the now. That is exactly where you need to be.

“There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons” is a 160-page hardcover and is published by Adams Media. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Adams Media, Comics, Health, Wellness, Yumi Sakugawa

Review: TRASHED by Derf Backderf

Derf-Backderf-Abrams-Comicarts

We think a lot about garbage here in Seattle. We’ve been ahead of the curve for many years. We separate our garbage from common garbage (non-food), compost (food), and recycling (very specific categories). I know that some Seattleites find utter joy in thoroughly washing their recyclables. And, lately, the City of Seattle has demanded more by showing no mercy and fining homeowners who dare to mix food in with their common everyday garbage!

To read TRASHED, the new graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this whole business of garbage is not so complicated. The real solution would be to use less! But I get ahead of myself. In this book, you see the very human element to garbage from the viewpoint of a bunch of young guys just starting out in life…as garbage collectors.

Derf-Backderf-Trashed-comics

Derf Backderf has a style and tone to his storytelling that brings you right in. You might not necessarily want to be brought in to some of the content he’s involved with but, all the same, there you are. From his comic strip that examined Cleveland urban life to his previous recollections of Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf presents the grim, the gritty, and the unvarnished truth. For his new graphic novel, he does something that may inspire other cartoonists to follow suit in their own way.

He revisits some experiences from his youth and brings these old characters up to present day with contemporary commentary. Backderf created comics based upon his year (1979-80) as a sanitation worker. In 2010, he took those old characters and, like ageless Archie comics characters, placed them in a present day setting for a webcomic. That project evolved into this current graphic novel.

Trashed-Derf-Backderf

Backderf gently nudges along the idea that we’re all such disgusting slobs. Maybe not all of the time but no one gets completely away. And there are plenty of oddball characters that Backderf observes on his rounds who shouldn’t get away with anything like the unscrupulous dog catcher that terrorizes all the neighborhood pets. And then there’s all the people leaving out inappropriate items like a stove and a car engine block. Seriously? Yes, people have no shame.

Derf-Backderf-Trashed

Knee-deep, and sometimes up to his eyeballs, in garbage, our main character prevails. He survives his year as a garbage collector. And, now, all these years later, we get the complete story in this funny, insightful, and beautifully rendered book.

TRASHED is a 256-page hardcover, published by Abrams ComicArts, available as of November 3, 2015. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, Comics, Derf Backderf, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Short Run 2015: Debut of GEORGE’S RUN #1

First issue of George's Run to debut at Short Run

First issue of George’s Run to debut at Short Run

For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, George Clayton Johnson, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Self-Published, Short Run

Review: ‘Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist’ by Bill Griffith

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

As if drawn with invisible ink, there are mountains of comics from yesteryear that, even if popular in their day, will never be read again. But once upon a time, cartoonists were bona fide celebrities. Today, of course, everything has splintered off. But we still have some of the good stuff that harkens back to a golden age. We have Bill Griffith’s legendary comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. Mr. Griffith is an expert on comics many times over and a masterful storyteller. He takes all that and gives us his first long-form graphic story, “Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist.”

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Griffith navigates us through the often murky world of pop culture’s past and puts it into unique context. The past easily holds onto its secrets all too often because no one bothers to ever try to pry them open. This is a book about prying open the past and revealing the most intriguing secrets, family secrets. Much in the spirit of Griffith’s surreal Zippy the Pinhead, the mundane here collides with the supposedly more colorful world of mass media. Add to that, a decidedly offbeat look at the world. I swear, I found Zippy creeping up when you least expected it. For instance, there’s a scene in a diner between Bill and his uncle, Al, and Al says, “You know what’s coming back?” Bill asks, “Salisbury steak?” “No,” Al says, “morse code!”

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Check out the page above that I just made reference to with the morse code comment. Ah, such a thing of beauty! A perfect example of the Bill Griffith sensibility and I’m sort of just picking a page at random. It speaks to the very best spirit of underground comix which Bill Griffith came from. It articulates a worldview of someone finely tuned in to his feelings and observations. It is a very relatable view since we all feel we’re tuned in to the world around us. The idea is to create an expression of what one sees that touches on all the details of the moment and evokes a stream-of-consciousness. We see Griffith reacting to a quaint world of yesteryear still alive in the here and now. It’s a world where you can expect to order three different kinds of macaroni & cheese. Of course, the actual K&W Cafeteria doesn’t think of itself as out-of-date. It offers free Wi-Fi, after all. But, from Griffith’s perspective, it is a strange world to marvel over and that’s what we’re looking for!

Invisible-Ink-Bill-Griffith

You can imagine that Bill Griffith’s mother might have pretended she was writing with invisible ink in order to be as revealing as she was in her journals and related work. Whatever the case, we hear her loud in clear in this exploration of her inner life. Griffith synthesizes various artifacts to find a greater truth. When you go hunting for answers like this, you’re liable to get lost in your own issues with your parents. Griffith is no different in this regard. He is just like any of us trying to deal with the past and that is an excellent hook for readers. What makes this story extraordinary is that Bill Griffith has definitely met his match with his mother who gives his storytelling skills a run for their money. If truth is stranger than fiction, then this must be one hell of an example of that. It boggled the mind of Bill Griffith, one of the great mind-bogglers in comics.

“Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist” is a 208-page black & white hardcover published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, and to order, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Bill Griffith, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Underground Comics, Zippy the Pinhead