Tag Archives: Books

Review: Insight Legends series and Marvel Comics

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN.

Who is it that loves superhero comics the most? Kids! Yes, superhero comics are for kids. There are plenty of stories geared toward older readers but, at the heart of the matter, if you stray so far from your younger readers, you have really lost something vital. Well, the focus shifted many years ago to mature and dark content to say the least. While an all-ages sphere of influence would prove quite interesting, we’ve moved past that model. Whatever the content, ultimately it depends on the creative team as to merit of each project. That said, kids must get their due. In that regard, Insight Editions has come up with a series with young readers in mind.

Tony Stark takes it easy.

Tony Stark takes it easy.

I can well imagine books like these being warmly received, taken at face value, by younger readers. Sounds idealistic? No, it’s just the power of childhood. Each one of these books is part of the Insight Legends series from Insight Editions. The series kicks off with a focus on characters from the Marvel Comics universe.

Thor postage stamp stickers.

Thor postage stamp stickers.

Each book comes packed with extras like posters, stickers, and “top secret” documents. Pages are full of intriguing facts, maps, and family trees, providing a veritable guidebook on a particular character. That’s the theme: a focus on one character and that character’s view of the world. Included in the series are Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Thor. Each book is around 64 pages with about 10 inserts, varies with each book.

For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions. You can find THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN right here. You can find THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR right here.

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Filed under Avengers, Comics, Insight Editions, Marvel Comics, Superheroes

Review: DISORDERS OF MAGNITUDE by Jason V Brock

Frankenstein reads. Art by Henry Chamberlain

Frankenstein reads. Art by Henry Chamberlain

First, you need to know how cool this book is. Imagine your favorite late night college radio show. And the deejay is Jason V Brock, the author of this book, “Disorders of Magnitude.” You rely upon Jason to provide insights and intriguing facts as he connects the dots. Good, so far? Well, it gets even better. We’re talking about a multitude of connections, some from on high and some from on low. It’s not easy to categorize it all but Brock manages to collect a lot of essential wisdom and in a very accessible presentation. The college radio analogy is fitting since “Disorders of Magnitude” falls under an academic book category. It is right at home as part of a college course. But it is also the perfect companion for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of where we are today in terms of the entertainment we consume, particularly dark fantasy.

Divided into six parts, with a wide scope of offerings within, the intent is to give order to what might seem at first, like an ooey gooey disorder. How do you reconcile great literature alongside B-movies? In fact, there’s a certain frenetic energy running throughout as Brock maintains a sense of urgency to his prose. And, of course, the numerous chapters here invite picking subjects at random to dive into, with each concise chapter running a few pages. One excellent point of entry is Chapter 14 in Part Three which discusses the formation and evolution of The Group, the science fiction writers in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s that would go on to create work in novels, film, and television, including the iconic and culturally significant, “The Twilight Zone,” television series. This one article alone proves to be an exemplary example of the book as a whole as it navigates through various eras and aspects of culture and entertainment.

“In the beginning is the dream,” states Brock in reference to The Group. They begin, like any band of pioneers, with “the crazy notion that they are somehow different–that they can leave a permanent mark on society, make a difference in the world.” It is this bravado and deep yearning that sustains men like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, and many others. They look up to two men who lead the way: Ray Bradbury, who is already established; and the firebrand Charles Beaumont destined upon his own unique path. And we keep coming back to The Group as Brock revels in chronicling their lives and provides here many interviews with the key figures on the scene.

Heading back from whence we came, Brock sets the stage with the opening article. “Frankenstein” was published anonymously in 1818 and, with that, the monster of horror and science fiction was unequivocally unleashed. Brock is great with setting up a mood to a time and place. He describes in detail the utterly strange weather conditions that, in no small way, gave rise to “Frankenstein” and other melancholic and moody art and writing. This all came about from a volcano in Indonesia. Its eruption in 1815, the largest ever witnessed in recorded human history, sent plumes of volcanic ash into the skies above around the globe for over a year forever altering life, and artistic sensibility, down below.

We steadily move to another chapter and other great writers in the gothic tradition: Poe, Stevenson, Stoker. Then we jump to another chapter and the next wave exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft and his evocation of the “fear of the unknown.” And after that, we take a significant turn with a chapter devoted to Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008). Like the activities of The Group, Ackerman figures heavily in Brock’s studies of pop culture. And it only stands to reason given Ackerman’s pivotal role in the scheme of things that, you must keep in mind, touches upon virtually every aspect of pop culture as we know it today: movies, games, television, comics, music, novels, the internet, and our own precious sensibilities.

Ackerman is, indeed, another circle of influence too large to hold in just one chapter and he, like other persons and movements, overlaps into other chapters. Ackerman did quite a lot in his day, including work as a literary agent to some of the greatest writers in science fiction. Taking it all into a whole, you can say that his main achievement was to assign value to, archive, and make accessible the very things so many held dear: the horror movies of childhood; the dazzling science fiction of yesteryear; the growing world of fandom as we’ve come to know it today. It was Ackerman’s comprehensive and energetic role in legitimizing a myriad of elements that contributed to a more egalitarian view on culture in general.

In a very real sense, Brock has taken on the mantle of Forry Ackerman. It is that heartfelt dedication to the things he loves that you will find in this collection of his writings.

“Disorders of Magnitude” is a 336-page hardcover, priced at $80.00, and published by Rowman & Littlefield. You find it here, here, and here. Visit Jason V Brock here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Fantasy, fantasy, Forrest J Ackerman, Gothic, Horror, Jason V. Brock, pop culture, science fiction, Supernatural

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

Edited by Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the goal of the book is to put a face to a crisis. Written and drawn by Jon Sack, you have here a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. And the art 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 not 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.

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Filed under Human Rights, Mexico, Verso Books, War

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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