Tag Archives: Books

Review: ‘Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives’ by Marcel Danesi

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

There’s a classic moment I fondly recall from my favorite art theory class. The professor was a true bohemian from his shock of disheveled hair down to his well-worn sandals. We were constantly peppering him with questions back then in that little closet of a classroom. Back when the world was a little slower than it seems today, back in the early ’90s. Someone threw out the latest query: “At what time period would you place the taste of today’s general public?” He shot back with a mischievous look, “No later than 1840!” I appreciated the sarcasm and the point he was making: many people just want traditional portraits and landscapes. However, looking back on this, he must have been having a bad day. If he’d been feeling less gloomy, he would have acknowledged the undeniable power of pop culture. In Marcel Danesi’s book on pop culture, he takes a far more optimistic view and we’re all the better for it.

Marcel Danesi has written an essential book on pop culture, both enlightening and entertaining. The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” will be required reading on many a campus this year. And it will prove quite useful whether you take it as part of a course or not. Danesi wastes no time in setting the stage and cutting to the chase: this is serious as well as lively business. He begins with “Runnin’ Wild,” a 1923 Broadway musical that introduced the sexually suggestive, and highly popular dance, The Charleston, that became a national sensation. If you’re looking for a key moment that ushered in the elements of pop culture as we’ve come to know them, then that is definitely a perfect one to focus on. There was no turning back as the energy and the spirit spread its way across the globe.

The question of what defines pop culture is inextricably linked to the question of who owns pop culture. And the short answer is that pop culture is for and by the people. If that echoes a declaration of independence, it is no mistake as all this is caught up in youthful rebellion. To be young, or at least young at heart, is most characteristic of this subject. Danesi guides us through the inevitable cycle, or transference pattern, that occurs as one generation passes the torch to the next. Youth culture gives way to mainstream culture. What was once scandalous in one era will, as that generation ages, transition from fringe to mainstream. It may be hard to believe now but, in the future, even Miley Cyrus’s current antics will eventually be swallowed up by mainstream culture. Each transition holds its own surprises and challenges. As the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, it was wrongly assumed by conventional wisdom that the flames from the “Rebel without a Cause” generation would just flicker out. Instead, it gave way to a firestorm of protest.

A wide net is cast in each chapter to scoop up various signs of life and proto-life for the world of pop. Print culture, for instance, goes back to 2700 BC and the first books made from papyrus. You could also look back to 1453 and Johannes Gutenberg taking a wine press and converting it into a printing machine leading to the mass production of books. More to our purposes, a significant signpost of upcoming events would be the advent of the Gothic novel with Marry Shelly’s “Frankenstein” in 1818. Throughout Danesi’s work we see how pop culture is inextricably linked to technology. Marshall McLuhan is often cited regarding his views on how the medium of the time will influence content and how people perceive it and reality itself.

One of Danesi’s best examples on the origins of modern-day pop culture comes from his observations on the 2002 Academy Award winning musical, “Chicago.” It’s the roaring ’20s and a brash new chapter in media is opening up. Using the power of the new celebrity culture, starlet Roxy, hopes to win over the press and win her freedom after being sent to prison for murder. Ironically, the reason she murdered is wrapped up in her desire to be famous. Facing a death sentence, her only hope is to become famous, manipulate the media and the jury. With the new hot jazz of the day playing throughout, pulsating and sexually suggestive, Roxy, and her media savvy cohorts, rule their time and would not seem out of place in our own time.

What the future holds for pop culture is related to its cycular nature and technology. The warnings over content overload have been sounding since McLuhan proposed we have entered into a global village. No longer do we have the thought patterns of print culture. The electronic age has yielded a hyperreality. Today, with Facebook, we sacrifice privacy for instant gratification. And we let Google determine what is relevant through statistics rather than measuring the value of content alone. The current Mashpedia form highlights our focus on the ephemeral. Danesi asks if this all signals the end of the pop culture experiment. If so, what would replace it or will it survive? The answer may lie in a persistent desire to rise above any limitations and the individual’s own quirky need to create. Something tells me we will never see an end to talented, persistent, and quirky, individuals.

The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” is published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Media, pop culture

It Happened in Seattle

Photo by Julia E. Light

Photo by Julia E. Light

Editor’s Note: Above photo is by Julia E. Light. Find her work here.

I moved to Seattle many years ago and, while I still like to travel, I find it to make a good home base. It used to be thought that Seattle was, despite the media scrutiny, the best kept secret. I moved in 1993. Grunge was in full tilt, Microsoft was on the rise, and Starbucks and Amazon were well on their way. The gray skies were oddly reassuring. The mellow weather was a welcome relief from the humid burden of Houston. And, just like Elvis, I swaggered my way onto the scene. I painted. I drew. I photographed. I wrote. Little by little, it happened in Seattle.

Today, I continue to paint, draw, photograph, and write. And I blog.

Many years ago, I set out to create meaningful work. In the end, I wanted things to add up to something that could be called art. I never stopped believing. And I never will.

Over time, I developed a specific working method. I write in notebooks that eventually make their way onto a laptop and so on. I sketch in a sketchbook. I draw and photograph something every day. Over the years, along with prose and drawings, I have created a number of comics. One of my earliest creations was a full length comic book entitled, MAN (sic). The title alone cracked me up but the content wasn’t particularly humorous. It was a collection of stories, some based on dreams and some just poetic observations. I believe that was around 1996. It was fun and underground. It came and went.

Today, I have much to be grateful for and look forward to. I have created more than enough work in comics to easily fill more than one collection. For now, I have the book of collected work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. At some point, it’s important to gather up one’s work, organize it, scrutinize it, and get it published one way or another. Only then, can you feel like you can move on to something else. And I am definitely working on that.

In the future, I want to show my art more, get more work published, and keep on writing. I consider posting to this blog a very important part of my writing. Some posts are only meant to be lighthearted and others run deeper. The activity of blogging is useful in so many ways. It’s one of those habits that I’m more than happy to continue to indulge indefinitely in one way or another.

Times will continue to change. Lives will continue to change. You do well to hold on to as much consistency as possible. Whether as a state of mind, or as an everyday ritual, it has happened, continues to happen, for me in Seattle.

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Filed under Art, Comics, Creativity, Essays, Julia E. Light, Photography, Seattle, writers, writing

Farewell to Seattle’s Cinema Books

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.

Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.

There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.

Gwili Andre, "America's Most Beautiful Model," 1932

Gwili Andre, “America’s Most Beautiful Model,” 1932

One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.

"Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film" by Gabriel Miller

“Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film” by Gabriel Miller

It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.

How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.

Judy Garland, "The Wizard of Oz," 1939

Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939

Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.

"Charly," directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

“Charly,” directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.

Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.

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Filed under Cinema Books, film, Hollywood, movies, Seattle

Review: REAL WORK by Christopher Green

Christopher-Green-Real-Work-comics

Reviewing comics, particularly independent comics, is a labor of love that will thank you with sore eyes, a sore back, and a profound understanding of the road less travelled or some such malarkey. But find a good mini-comic, a really good one by some glorious weirdo, and all is forgiven and you’re good to go for another batch of reviews. And so it was said and so it was done. Christopher Green is one of those glorious weirdos. His mini-comic, “Real Work,” is a fine example of that.

Oh so many cartoonists of a certain ilk are toiling away with thoughts of perhaps making some sort of impact. They don’t dare to dream to be the next R. Crumb, or at least they tell their friends that. But, hey, some don’t have to dare to dream and just do it. Just doing it. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

There’s an effortless quality to what I see in this comic. Maybe it took him hours upon hours to create and then he redid the whole sucker all over again for good measure. Or maybe he cranked it out at one go. There are a number of choices that needed to be made, “problem-solving” tasks, if you will, that Green gets right, one way or another.

Green’s 12-page collection of comics is loopy auto-bio, fantasy, and artful silliness. We begin with observations on the surface to body mass ratio regarding a squirrel’s crash landing. A few more pages in, and we’re in the thick of a war between Alaska and Canada. This also involves the teleporting of souls.

Green has the confidence and skill to pull this zany stuff off. It may seem simple but he’s actually putting his surface to body mass calculations to good use. Adroit placement of objects, thoughtful composition, pleasing contrast, it all adds up nicely. Take, for instance, his two boys on a whimsical crime spree. They may be relatively crude little figures, but they’re well-defined, distinct, and full of life. Katzenjammer Kids underground comix style!

Christopher-Green-Sequential-Artists-Workshop-comics

Consider one last example above: a page on exploring pagan rituals. On just one page, Green evokes a doomed relationship, a universal struggle, and then gives it all a tidy absurdist ending with a hilarious grace note to boot.

Christopher Green’s “Real Work” mini-comic was printed at the Sequential Artists Workshop, or SAW, in Gainesville, Florida. This is a vital center for learning the art of comics founded and led by cartoonists Tom Hart and Leela Corman. It is, no doubt, thanks to the great care to craft at SAW that Christopher’s color cover, with gold no less, looks as nice as it does. Be sure to visit SAW right here. Be sure to visit Christopher Green right here. And visit his store, Wall of Balloons, right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Independent Comics, Leela Corman, mini-comics, Minicomics, SAW, Sequential Artists Workshop, Tom Hart

Logan’s Run: Vintage Movie Classics (A Vintage Movie Classic) Release Date – July 7, 2015

Logans-Run-Vintage-Books-2015

The new print and ebook edition of the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, is now out, published by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Check out the new line of Vintage Movie Classics right here. This is the bestselling dystopian novel that inspired the 1970s science-fiction classic starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan. For many of you out there, enough said. It will instantly bring to mind crystal palm flowers flickering red. If that means nothing to you, then you’re in for a treat. Perhaps knowing that such works as “The Hunger Games” and the Divergent trilogy owe much to this novel with pique your interest.

It is a beautiful new edition for longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the longest time, this title was essentially out of print, as far as a mass market printing was concerned. The original novel was a huge hit in its day, only to be magnified by its tie-in with the major motion picture. The novel was never forgotten and, in fact, its legend grew. Special edition print runs came out over the years and you could always find an old copy of the many editions that exist. For collectors, there are many iconic paperback editions to choose from. But the fact remained that the time had come for a new readily available edition and now we have it. I’ve been a big supporter of bringing out a new edition. You can read my review of the original novel and my call for a new edition right here.

The forward is by Daniel H. Wilson, author of several books on possible dystopian futures, including Where’s My Jetpack?, Robogenesis, and the forthcoming, Quarantine Zone. Wilson provides just the right balance of looking back to his own childhood experience with Logan’s Run and observations on the novel’s enduring relevance. Wilson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and adds a contemporary boost to a timeless classic.

The novel, first published in 1967, paints a very compelling, and alarming, picture of a society overly dependent upon technology for all aspects of life. Youth has been conditioned to seek out distraction and pleasure over all else, including quality of life. That said, for anyone familiar with the movie, this is also one very entertaining story. The movie echoes the novel as it veers off into its own high level of kitsch. But no harm done. The movie remains a cult classic and an excellent gateway to the original novel.

I have always held a fascination with how movies adapt novels so I am thrilled to discover Logan’s Run is part of a new line of books from Vintage Books. Vintage Movie Classics includes a wide variety titles like “Night of the Hunter,” the bestselling National Book Award-finalist that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters. Other available titles: The Bad Seed, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Back Street, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This is truly astounding for the broad range and the opportunity to rediscover lost gems.

You can find Logan’s Run over at Vintage Books right here and over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Books, George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Novels, pop culture, science fiction, William F. Nolan

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.

Insight-Editions-Inside-Sideshow-Studio

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

Fantagraphics-Greg-Stump-comics

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’

FigureFantasy_Case_021815.indd

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.

Insight-Editions-Star-Wars-Darth-Vader

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.

Insight-Editions-Figure-Fantasy

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.”

Daniel-Picard-Figure-Fantasy-2015

“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

This-is-Cezanne-Laurence-King

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.

Patrick-Vale-Cezanne-2015

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