Superheroes and Other Media

by Bob Gunn

Comics are a medium unlike any other as they merge visuals with the written word to tell a story. The closest form they have is film and television, but even then, they differ. Comic books are the masters of detail and controlling a reader’s movement. You can put in huge amounts of detail when necessary into a panel to convey information and a reader can look at this for as long as they like and take in as much as they desire. This doesn’t work in a novel, as it would have to be a long paragraph that would be boring to read and is tough to go over the details again and again. A movie can freeze on a screen but it can’t linger too long though. With a comic, however, you can take as much time with each panel as you think it needs and go back and forth with ease to things you may have missed. These are a comic book’s strengths.

Ever since the 1930s we have seen comics grow and grow as a medium. We’ve seen people try new ideas and formats in order to create fresh styles and concepts. Whether it’s monthly single issues, graphic novels, page a day webcomics or whatever, you can present them in different ways to further your story or hook a reader. Despite comics being popular entertainment for many years, they have never quite been as loved as their contemporaries. These characters and stories remain fashionable though and have a strong following, and this has allowed people to adapt them in new ways.

Superheroes are a great example of this. Today you can find many costumed heroes who fight villains in any form you can think of. You can go to the cinema right now and enjoy classic comic book characters and obscure ones, all with a big budget. This has brought comic heroes to a wider audience than ever. Most would know about Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. but now Deadpool, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Cyborg and even Rocket Raccoon have become pop culture icons.

This isn’t the only form we’ve seen superhero style characters, as video games have also been able to successfully adapt them. Comic book style characters having amazing abilities, great villains and interesting locals and gimmicks makes them prime content to adapt for a game and this has been done in many ways. The Batman Arkham series have enabled people to immerse themselves in Batman’s world and fight like he does. Telltales’ Wolf Among Us puts you in more direct control of the cast of Fables and enables you to shape the story. Other games can be wild takes, such as Ladylucks’ Ghostbusters game. The Marvel vs. Capcom and Injustice games abandon the story of comic book characters and instead focus on their abilities and designs, taking a hyperactive and direct approach.

Comic books as a medium will likely be around forever in some form or another. They may find new popularity or become more obscure but it’s safe to say that the characters and stories they contain will be loved forever.

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Filed under Comics, Media, Superheroes

SIFF Review: ‘The Fabulous Allan Carr’

“The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

Warren Beatty announcing the wrong winner at this year’s Oscars was a disaster but the all-time biggest disaster is so bad that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rather not discuss it and there is nothing on Youtube to document it, except for a verbal description by comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. The story is about how legendary Hollywood producer Allan Carr ended up creating the strangest opening number ever for the Oscars. That infamous moment, truly mind-bending surreal camp, is the linchpin to a new documentary on a fascinating life and career, “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz.

If you were a kid growing up in the ’70s, as one snarky person interviewed in the doc says, there were two big movie events: for straights it was “Star Wars” and, for gays, it was “Grease.” Be that as it may, “Grease,” back in 1978, was a very big deal at my high school, whatever your sexual orientation. I was in the marching band and, as a last-minute prank, many of the boys decided to drop their pants and moon the crowds in the stadium. This was directly inspired by “Grease,” which was as far away from an Oscar opening number flop as you could get. “Grease” was a bonafide hit and it put the movie’s producer, Allan Carr, on the map.

Steve Rubell losing patience escorting Olivia Newton-John and Producer Alan Carr into the “Grease” Party at Studio 54.

How Allan Carr gained the confidence and sense of purpose to become a Hollywood legend is thoroughly explored here. We follow Carr from insecure boy to insecure man, finally losing his virginity in his 30s. Where he was on firm ground was his steadfast desire to put on a show. If you loved “La La Land,” you will relate to Carr’s great love for the grandeur of Old Hollywood, particularly the heyday of movie musicals. After Carr’s success with “Grease,” there would be various ups and downs. One undisputed high point was his producing the Oscar-winning “The Deer Hunter.” And Carr reached his greatest heights producing “La Cage aux Folles” on Broadway.

And then came that incredibly over-the-top opener for the 1989 Oscars. The clip below is not from the documentary but gives you an understanding of what all the fuss was about. This is Bruce Vilanch who, by the way, does provide some wonderful segments exclusively made for the documentary:

After “Grease” would come Carr’s first big misstep: 1980’s “Can’t Stop the Music,” the musical showcasing The Village People. Carr had hoped to bring abroad Olivia Newton-John for a lead role but, after reading the script, she rejected it. So did Cher and Raquel Welch. However, Carr was able to secure Valerie Perrine. Carr also enlisted a rising star, Steve Guttenberg. The whole affair was directed by veteran funny lady Nancy Walker who was not much of a director. In the end, this was a classic Carr flop: over-sexed camp too far out on a limb. And so he moved on to the next project, and the next.

In time, Carr would find himself. One key personal moment was when he discovered caftans. The spacious velvety robe allowed Carr’s undisciplined body to run free. With a caftan, he could relax and be more open about himself and his sexuality. The ups and downs of his projects would settle into perspective. There would be the undisputed triumphs. And, in the end, he could say he lived his life to the fullest.

The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, was a standout at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary is based upon the book, “Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr” by Robert Hofler. As the story about a gay chubby insecure boy who grows up to live out his wildest dreams, it provides another compelling view of the hopes and dreams of La La Land.

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Filed under Gay, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF

Review: NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

For a sampling of some of the best independent cartoonists today, one great source is the NOT MY SMALL DIARY anthology, edited by Delaine Derry Green. Cartoonist John Porcellino, known for his “King Cat” comics, has called Delaine’s anthology, “One of the most important comic-zines in history.” Here is a look at Issue 19: Unexplained Events, which showcases the work from 43 talented artists.

Panel excerpt from Kevin Van Hyning’s “The Curse of Macbeth”

So, the theme of “unexplained events” leaves open a wide field of opportunities from things that go bump in the night and beyond. One of the most inventive, jarring, and downright entertaining pieces comes from Kevin Van Hyning. It’s a pretty messed up misadventure and I hope and pray that nothing close to this actually happened to Kevin. Like a lot of creative people, myself included, Kevin has many outlets, like performing on stage. In “The Curse of Macbeth,” we see what can happen when an actor confronts the age-old superstition of daring to say “Macbeth” before a show. It’s supposed to be very bad luck! And, as it turns out in this comic, it’s the sort of bad luck that can knock your teeth out! Inspired work! A big takeaway for me is learning of this curse as I don’t believe I’d ever heard of it before. But it has a long tradition dating back to the very first time it was performed in 1606. Teeth kept being knocked out and worse!

David Lasky’s “Mothman”

As a cartoonist myself, who has observed and commented upon the comics scene for many years, I am delighted to see page after page of inspired work from familiar and new talent. What you find in this book is a treasure trove of comics experimentation. Each creator is working within their own special confines, powered by their own personal engine. This is a fascinating book and a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary comics. Each artist you visit here is like a little island onto itself. We paddle ashore and reach the Isle of David Lasky. Here we find enigmatic work giving out a melancholic howl. In the one-page “Mothman,” we find the distinctive Lasky poetic comic. Relax your shoulders and linger over it.

Panel excerpt from “My ‘Unsual’ Sighting’ by James Burns

The universal symbol for the unexplained seems to always go back to UFOs. And so I close with a piece by James Burns, “My ‘Unusual’ Sighting.” The most eerie and creepy incidents are beautifully underscored by the mundane. Often the most profound things must compete with the most banal and so it is in this comic. It is 1966 and a bunch of kids innocently look up in the sky and seem to be watching their favorite sci-fi show in the clouds–but they’re not. Or what are they seeing? Ten years later, Burns is eighteen and has an opportunity to possibly confirm his most wildest speculation. But he’s still a kid–and what is he supposed to do if his suspicions are correct? Nicely done and a fitting example to a most impressive collection of work in comics.

Be sure to keep up with Not My Small Diary at Delaine Derry Green’s My Small Web Page right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Not My Small Diary

Review: WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

It’s that touch of strange that the best writers and artists tap into that makes all the difference. Writer Steve Niles says that his already odd story took some more twists and turns after he viewed what artist Alison Sampson had done with the first issue of their new limited-run comic book series, WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD. Soon, you’ll be able to see the results for yourself. This is an advance review so a word to the wise (comic book retailers stock up!) and mark your calendar for this Image Comics release on June 14th.

Isn’t it spooky when you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye? That particularly creepy feeling, the mixing of the banal with the terrifying, keeps building in this first issue in a most satisfying way. We begin in the small American Southwestern town of Acton, one minute after midnight. There’s an orgy of violence with a Satanic ceremony that climaxes with the emergence of a portly and banal naked man declaring his return from the dead. Who is this portly banal man? All we know is that he stepped right out of the body of one of that night’s victims to sacrifice.

This disturbing uneven feeling of disconnection and terror is quite pleasing, and the credit all goes to the team of writer Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson. With dynamic and moody colors by Stéphane Paitreau. And lyrically placed lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Our story seamlessly rolls along a nightmarish landscape with characters nearly oblivious to what’s going on. It’s more of that delicious disconnection at play.

Winnebago Graveyard!

For, you see, the Winnebago from this comic’s title symbolizes a slice of normal that gets caught in this big fat wedge of crazy. It’s your all-American family, full of equal amounts of wanderlust and dysfunction, that find themselves way off course, all too close to Satan’s country. But are they aware of what’s going on? Sampson depicts them as utterly disconnected in such a masterful way. After spending a whole day in what amounts to an abandoned amusement park, they seem to be getting a clue that they’re very much out of their element. For now, it all seems like a sleepy nightmare.

I was mesmerized by Sampson’s artwork in GENESIS, a one-shot with Image Comics, and wrote a review of that you can read here. This latest comic lives up to what I expected to see next in her work. This is a smashing first issue. You will also want to check out the two essays at the end of this comic. One is on horror movies set in the American Southwest by Sarah Horrocks and it focuses on the 1987 horror classic, “Near Dark.” The other essay is about Satanism in the real world by Casey Gilly and it focuses on Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and the potential motivations of its followers.

Both essays are part of a series that will run throughout all four issues. I am so glad to see these essays, which compliment the comic and, in fact, become part of the comic. As I like to point out to my readers, we do not live by comics alone. I make a point of writing about all sorts of things and they usually have a relationship to comics, even a quite meaningful connection, like my in-depth interview with novelist Jerome Charyn. Maybe I do things a little differently here but I’m not changing and I believe my readers appreciate that.

And let’s hold on just a bit. Yes, I would take issue with anyone who thinks a discussion about comics takes place in a vacuum. I don’t think anyone really believes that since, even the most so-called comics purist will veer off being strictly on topic. Life, the culture-at-large, bigger and brighter things, exist out there in the world. So, again, I say that the isolated prose, the two essays, in this comic becomes part of the comic. Gilly, in her essay, even directly refers back to the comic and asks the reader to question what the character Chrissie was really seeing. And Horrocks, in her essay, riffs so smoothly on the desert motif running throughout the comic. What a literate and artful comic! Buy it!

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (Of 4) is published by Image Comics and is available as of June 14, 2017. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Alison Sampson, Comics, Comics Reviews, Horror, Image Comics, Jerome Charyn, Satan, Steve Niles, Supernatural

Great Review of ‘Alice in New York’ by Henry Chamberlain

I really appreciate the insightful review by Stacey E. Bryan of my graphic novel, “Alice in New York.” Stacey is the author of the humorous supernatural thriller, “Day for Night.” Her review is a wonderful boost of acknowledgement. All of us writers and artists strive for just this sort of connection.

The Big Apple. For a lot of people, those four words would mean little or nothing. But for me personally, it means a lot, because I was living there in 1989. The Twin Towers were still intact. Our country hadn’t turned that strange corner yet and started accelerating down a slippery slope into the 24-7 fear-mongering which has left us in the mess we’re in today.

When you’re in a mess, there’s no room for magic. But in 1989, in New York City, the old gods, the old ways, were still intact, and this is the year and the setting where Henry Chamberlain captured that feeling tenderly and bravely with his graphic novel “Alice in New York.” […]

via Alice In New York: A graphic novel by Henry Chamberlain — Laughter Over Tears

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Interview: Jerome Charyn and the Art of Fiction in Prose and in Comics

Portrait of Jerome Charyn by Henry Chamberlain

Much is brewing for novelist Jerome Charyn and I imagine that’s always been the case. Currently, he has a new novel out, “Jerzy,” which tackles the controversial life of writer Jerzy Kosinski. The development of “Hard Apple,” an animated series based on Charyn’s Isaac Sidel crime novels, is on a fast-track. “Winter Warning,” perhaps the last installment of the Sidel novels comes out this October. And “Family Man,” a deluxe re-issue of Charyn’s collaboration with cartoonist Joe Staton will be available later this year, with a Kickstarter campaign in support of the IT’S ALIVE Press print run closing on May 21st.

For a writer steeped in the works of great literature, it is comic books and movies that influence his work as much as anything else. In 1986, “The Magician’s Wife,” a graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and illustrated by François Boucq, published by Casterman, won for Best Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. That is tantamount to winning an Academy Award for the comics industry. Mr. Charyn’s contribution, and subsequent collaborations, have significantly added to the developing art form that is the comics medium, specifically graphic novels.

We begin our conversation talking about character. In this case, the celebrated and controversial writer Jerzy Kosinski. At the end is a link to the podcast:

Jerzy Kosinski with David Letterman, 1984.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin with your recent novel, “Jerzy.” My thinking is that the life of Jerzy Kosinski fits in well with your work as you’re drawn to unusual characters seeking salvation.

JEROME CHARYN: When you look back at it historically, it almost seems like he didn’t exist. He seems like a made-up person. He led so many fictional lives. To me, it was very sad because the first two books he wrote, “The Painted Bird,” and his second novel, “Steps,” which is just as unusual, were works of genius. But, when he put on the mask of Jerzy Kosinski, in the other books, they’re no longer anywhere as interesting. They don’t have the same sad, hard touch. They’re made-up, invented. They’re not authentic.

“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn

“Steps” talks about his life after the war and how he lived. We have such a narrow glimpse into what it must have been like to live in a communist country after the war. And this is, you know, almost like Kafka. I mean, the world he describes in “Steps” is extraordinary. I found him to be a strange man. Very hard to deal with. But the early work was incredible.

You share a certain sensibility with Kosinski: a connection to Russia.

Yes, my mother was Russian. And I love the literature. There’s nothing like it. This is not to take anything away from American writers but when you go back to Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol, it’s almost like being caught in a landscape of illusions.

Lowes Paradise Theatre in the Bronx. “It was comics and movies. That was my education.”

Would you share with us your special connection to comics. You grew up in the Bronx with comics.

Yes, that’s why it’s not so strange to be involved in the whole aura of comic books. I’m about to embark upon an animated series based on my Isaac Sidel crime novels. People talk about the special role of storyboard artists. Well, I’m a storyboard artist in the sense that I can see the storyboard in my head. I grew up with comics. I learned how to read with comics.

As you wrote in one of your articles, I’m one of the first people to make the crossover from fiction to comics. I started out as an artist but I had no talent at all. So, I needed artists to work with. And I was lucky to find some of the very best artists while I was living in France. Had I not been living in France, it probably would never have happened.

A SUIVRE, a Franco-Belgian comics magazine published from February 1978 to December 1997 by the Casterman.

Your work in comics began with your connection to the comics magazine, A SUIVRE.

Yes, the title means to be continued. It was an extraordinary magazine. It lost its circulation, which can happen as you move from one generation of readers to the next. The magazine reviewed one of my novels. I was sent a copy of the issue with the review and I was exposed to some of the most extraordinary art: Tardi, Bilal, and José Muñoz, a master of black & white. I wrote a letter to the editor, Jean-Paul Mougin, a wonderful editor. I wrote to him about my desire to work with an artist. He found for me François Boucq, and we were able to collaborate on several graphic novels, including “The Magician’s Wife.”

When you were entering into this collaboration, were you at all thinking that you were about to a make your mark on this exciting and emerging comics art form or were you thinking more of it as an interesting experiment?

I would say it was both. To declare that I was making my mark would have been thinking too far ahead. I adored the work Boucq did. I remember working in television for the first time twenty-five years ago. And I recall thinking that I would love hearing the lines that I wrote for the pilot, adapted from one of my novels. And I didn’t love it at all. But when I saw the art that François Boucq did, I almost cried. He took a story that I wrote and interpreted it in his own way. The results felt totally personal. On television, the words each actor and actress spoke had no relation to me whatsoever. I was startled. I’d seen the rushes. I thought I would really enjoy it. It was dead to me.

Do you recall what televsion show that was?

Yes. It was an adaptation of “The Good Policeman.”

I wanted to build a little more on what you’ve said about comics, that it comes in and out of reality. And you’ve talked about how one can linger upon a panel. The framework of comics is unique, is magical.

Yes, it is magical. It has its own framework, like a house. It’s architecture. The panels are pieces of architecture. Also, you can move them around and shift the logic. You can possibly do that in a novel but it’s going to be difficult for the reader. You see how I do that in “Jerzy.” I shift the narrative, in a way. It seems to me, going back to Krazy Kat, you move from panel to panel and you’re in a different landscape. That, to me, was very exciting. In other words, there were no rules. You could tell the story in any way you wanted.

“Once Upon a Droshky” by Jerome Charyn. Cover art by Edward Sorel.

I wanted to chat with you about your first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” published in 1964. It has beautiful cover art by Edward Sorel.

I really love that cover. I’m disappointed that I never worked with him again. I chose one of my friends to do the cover for my next book. That was a mistake since you shouldn’t mix friendship with art.

Is there anything you can share with us about Edward Sorel–did you guys socialize?

I think I did meet him. I do adore the cover. I don’t know why he was chosen. He was a young man at the time. It is simply a wonderful cover as it fits the book perfectly. I was delighted to learn that you had just interviewed him. Not only that, we both have the same publisher, Liveright.

You guys should have coffee some time.

I hope so. I would love to meet him. I always wanted to be a writer and, when you see your first book, it doesn’t seem real. I’m holding it in my hand right now and it still doesn’t seem real!

You seem to have anticipated my next question. I wonder if you could give us a window into that time, at the height of the modern era. Sorel could create the Great American Illustration and you could create the Great American Novel.

“Great American Novel,” no, but it was a time when serious literature thrived. Hemingway was still alive. I believe, Faulkner was still alive. Literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something to the culture. In other words, when I went to Columbia College, we spent four years just reading books. So, one did not talk about the possibility of whether or not you might become a doctor or a lawyer. That was incidental to the idea of learning a way of life. And that has remained with me. The greatest gift I ever had was spending four years studying books. We had a colloquium of ten students and two professors. In the colloquium there was a student who would go on to win a Nobel Prize, another student who became a professor of philosophy at Harvard, etc. These were all very serious guys with a murderous intellect. And literature was a kind of religion. It’s difficult for me to speak about the current generation. But I know that, at that time, literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something.

It’s always been a relatively small group of serious readers. Literature used to mean more to the general public–we’ve lost that.

We’ve lost a lot. There are fewer book reviews and fewer bookshops. It’s the same thing that’s happened to the movies. They’re just remakes of superhero flicks and a few small films. The small has disappeared. It’s the mega-book. It’s the mega-bomb, you know. And that’s not the kind of art that I want to do.

There’s something that Marilyn Monroe said toward the end of her career, and it’s my credo. She said, “I don’t want to be rich. I want to be wonderful.” I feel the same way. I love Marilyn Monroe but she had no idea how to live her life. When she moved back to L.A., she didn’t know how to furnish her house. All she had was a bed and a lamp. It’s kind of sad but also poetic at the same time.

You have an amazing formal education. But, first, you had comic books and the movies. Do those two forces strongly influence your work, the magical realism that keeps popping up?

Yes. Remember, when you grow up with films, you have a visual sophistication that you don’t have in real life. I came from a very poor family. I remember going out with a girlfriend of mine. She came from a very aristocratic background. She was chastising me for not holding my knife the correct way. I seldom get angry. But I really exploded. I said that I lived all my life being told what to do and I didn’t want to be told how to eat. I didn’t have her table manners. I didn’t have her customs. I grew up like a kind of wolf.

But, on the other hand, I had this visual sophistication from a very early age. Joyce Carol Oates explained it to me. I thought that maybe I’d just seen so many movies. She said that maybe my brain was wired in a special way. In other words, I can distinctly remember the back of an actor’s head I had seen in a film thirty years ago. I don’t have to see the front of his face. That crazy visualization was imprinted in my brain.

There were no books in the house. It was comics and movies. That was my education. School didn’t give you much, just little things like how to spell.

“The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” by Jerome Charyn

What can you tell us about your debut novel. What led you to choose the subject behind “Once Upon a Droshky”?

My grandparents came from the Lower East Side. You have to remember, I’d never traveled. I’d never been anywhere. Even as a kid, I very rarely went into Manhattan. Even though I was sophisticated in terms of what I read, I could not, at that point, take what I read and turn it into what I wanted to write. I had to find a theme, or a group of characters that made sense to me. I remember walking around the streets where my grandparent lived on the Lower East Side. And I can still recall the Yiddish theaters—the marquees and the actors. So, in my first novel, I picked a Yiddish actor who is unemployed. And I was able to move into that world and find his voice. Voice is critical. Writing is music. There’s nothing else but the music.

I certainly enjoyed reading your first novel. I would encourage everyone to grab an existing copy while you still can. It would definitely make sense for this book to come back in a new edition.

That’s when you get into issues of commerce. At some point, things will either work out or not. I’m grateful that I was able to do it. Someone will ask me about how I wrote that novel. Well, I found the music for it. And, for a long time, while I was living in Europe, I’d lost the music. I really wasn’t able to write. I was only able to write about New York. I was able to write stories about New York but I wasn’t able to be more adventurous. Language is a gift that can disappear as quickly as it can reappear. It’s almost magical. You write in a dream. It’s really a dream state. I don’t know how artists draw. I can only tell you how I write. You’re writing in a dream.

Your body of work is breathtaking. When someone goes over the many titles and considers the quality of the work, it’s stunning. A recent example is “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.” I had not read that much of Dickinson prior to reading your book. But I have now. And your novel is quite beautiful.

Thank you. I like that book a lot. I was chastised for writing in a woman’s voice. I’d rediscovered Emily Dickinson rather late. I’d never read her letters before and they are just as extraordinary as her poems. I knew I wasn’t finished with her. So, I started “A Loaded Gun.” The wondrous fact is that she never wanted to publish her work. She was like Kafka in a way. She had a secret self that was very tough. People don’t recognize her toughness. And this is what I wanted to write about.

“Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories” by Jerome Charyn

I wanted to ask you about your story collection, “Bitter Bronx.” I would recommend that as a wonderful point of entry. I love the fable-like quality to the stories. They remind me, in a way, of J.D. Salinger.

I’m not a great admirer of “Catcher in the Rye.” But I love “The Nine Stories.” I read them in high school. There are three or four of those stories that can make you cry with sadness and delight. The important thing is a book that you can reread and still feel the same affection: Ernest Hemingway’s early stories, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Isaac Babel. The thing about “Bitter Bronx” is that I had to relearn the craft. My editor in France suggested that I write a collection of stories about the Bronx, and like Yankee Doodle, that became my quest.

I want to call attention to the four recent graphic novel re-issues, translated in English, by Dover Publications. Readers can follow up on my previous reviews for that. I also want to call attention to FAMILY MAN, a crime noir graphic novel that will receive a deluxe reprint from IT’S ALIVE Press led by Drew Ford.

We currently have a Kickstarter campaign for “Family Man.” Drew Ford has not received the recognition that he deserves. He is a shrewd editor and gets exactly what he’s looking for from a project.

Page from FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton

Tell us about “Family Man.”

Andy Helfer was the editor at DC Comics. I was interested in writing a Batman story but they had other ideas.

I’ll bet you could get your Batman story today.

Yes, but I’m no longer interested. Jeanette Kahn, president of DC Comics, was interested in one of my novels for a comics adaptation. At the time, in the very small printed format for “Family Man” in three stingy booklets, I didn’t like the art. However, when I finally saw the original art, I loved it.

The deluxe edition is faithful to all the duotone details of the original work.

Exactly.

My quirkiest question for you: You have these leather masks that all the trainees wear in “Billy Budd, KGB.” Where did you get those masks?

They just came from my head!

Well, they’re very arresting visuals!

Trump cartoon by François Boucq for Le Monde.

The thing is that Boucq is an extraordinary artist. When he focuses in on a subject, he gets extraordinary results. These days, he also does political cartoons for Le Monde. For “Billy Budd, KGB,” Boucq made certain changes in the story. Mine was more of a straightforward spy story. Boucq added in the Native American spiritual quality.

That reminds me of your Isaac Sidel stories. What can you tell us about the “Hard Apple” animated series based on your crime series?

We hope to get eight half hour narratives based on the first book, “Blue Eyes.” Then continue from book to book. I’ve done what they call the bible which is a summary of the characters. And soon I will be working on the pilot. I am excited about it. I didn’t realize how lyrical one could be in that animated format. The original idea, six or seven years ago, was to do a live action series. When we moved from that to animation, that’s really my country.

Then you have “Winter Warning” coming out.

Yes, the twelfth book in the series. It may be the last but at least we’ve completed the series. As you know, the main character ends up becoming president of the United States. He’s a Trump-like character. In his case, he’s a Trump of the left, rather than of the right.

Do you think that Donald Trump would make an interesting character to write about or are the people working for him more interesting?

I really don’t know. He’s a phenomenon we never thought would have happened, coming out of reality television. The country has changed so much that now a television star can become president and there will probably be other television star presidents. Say what you will about him, but he was able to speak to the American people in a way that the other candidate could not, except maybe Bernie Sanders.

I hope we may see a re-issue of “Panna Maria.”

Yes, everything in its time. If you shove to hard, you lose everything. You have to see it within its own sequence. If “Family Man” works, then everything else will work.

Things need time to breathe.

Yes. Right now, I’m working on a sequel to “Little Tulip.” I have a wonderful Belgian editor. And we’re at work on a graphic novel of Charlemagne.

It’s great how you rekindled your relationship with François Boucq.

That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.

That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.

And I look forward to the “Hard Apple” animated series. That’s being put together by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, who created art for the animated movie “Waltz With Bashir.” They’re twins. One does covers for The New Yorker. It’s going to be a wonderful animated series. It’s a chance to do something that’s never been done before.

It would be great to pick up the thread again sometime, especially leading up to the next, perhaps last, Isaac Sidel book.

As you can see the discussion is endless: the relationship between comics and novels, the whole notion of graphic art, the notion of narrative in every form, we could be talking for days.

Your book, “Movieland,” there’s an hour of conversation right there.

Exactly. You should pick up a copy of “Metropolis,” my book on New York, when you get a chance.

I will.

I really appreciate your interest. And we’ll talk again.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

“Winter Warning,” Book 12 in the Isaac Sidel crime novel series.

Click the link below to listen to the podcast interview right here.

Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here. And be sure to check out the FAMILY MAN graphic novel Kickstarter campaign, running thru May 21st, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Donald Trump, Fiction, Interviews, Jerome Charyn, Jerzy Kosinski, New York City

Book Review: ‘Jerzy: A Novel’ by Jerome Charyn

“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn

I have been reading a lot of work by Jerome Charyn lately. Once you start, it is hard to resist more. Charyn has this passion for seeking the truth that is very seductive. In the case of his latest novel, “Jerzy,” published this March by Bellevue Literary Press, he is compelled to better understand Jerzy Kosinski, author of the celebrated 1965 novel, “The Painted Bird.” It is a fascinating, and often funny, journey written by one of our greatest writers about the rise and fall of another great writer.

Actor Peter Sellers looms large over the book that follows the making of 1979’s “Being There,” the film adaptation of Kosinski’s novel, starring Sellers as the blank slate turned celebrity, Chauncey Gardiner. In Charyn’s novel, Sellers is not much more than a lost man-child, a blank slate in his own right. Sellers hires Ian, a former bodyguard with a taste for literature, to be his all-around wingman. If there is anything Sellers needs in the way of protection or advice on dinner conversation, Ian must step in.

It is not long before Sellers enlists Ian in his quest to have Kosinski agree to have Sellers star in the movie version of “Being There.” It is hardly a walk in the park as Kosinski detests Sellers. Sellers perpetually complicates matters. He is convinced that Princess Margaret fancies him and that he will marry her. And Kosinski is equally complicated. At the most random moments, something will trigger a dark mood and a longwinded rant.

As is made clear, the vacuous Sellers is tailor-made for the role of Chauncey. And Kosinski has very little to complain about, despite his tremendous resistance to Sellers. But the conflict in this novel is far more deep-seated and sinister. Charyn suggests that Sellers and Kosinski have paid too high a price for fame, have been reduced to mere shells of their former selves; and in Charyn’s hands, both become compelling tragi-comic figures.

It is Kosinski who stands in for a great deal of unresolved issues, including World War II and its aftermath. In his novel, “The Painted Bird,” Kosinski challenges the reader to confront great suffering and atrocities. For such a compelling testament, Kosinski would, over time, secure fame. For Charyn, Kosinski is that large-than-life enigmatic Citizen Kane. The harder they come, Charyn concludes, the harder they fall. Charyn plays with the mixed bag of rumors of plagiarism that haunted Kosinski. Today, in a different context, the same techniques of borrowing from other sources would not raise eyebrows. “The Painted Bird” was a novel, not a memoir. Truth is stranger than fiction. And, as Kosinski said himself, “I am a truth, not facts.”

Charyn seems to take Kosinski to task at every turn. He seems to make a mockery of tender scenes in “The Painted Bird” and recollections from Kosinski friends and associates. In Charyn’s novel, Kosinski, like the villagers in “The Painted Bird,” is fascinated to utter distraction with turning old tin cans into homemade flying rockets. Kosinski, also in Charyn’s novel, prefers to sleep inside a large dresser drawer. Kosinski explains that he’s made too many enemies and his life is constantly in danger. However, Charyn is sensitive to life’s contradictions, no matter what misinformation Kosinski detractors may spread. Such work as “The Painted Bird” speaks for itself. In the excerpt below from Charyn’s novel, Ian, the narrator, concludes that Kosinski did not have ghostwriters but those who helped him, up to a point, with his English:

No baby-sitter from here to Mars could have scratched out the icicle-covered sentences in “The Painted Bird.” And after rereading the book for the sixth or seventh time, I realized that suicide was built into its very fabric, as if the narrator were locked into some kind of frozen grief, and had survived the war on fierce will alone. His entire life had become a chess move or chapters pasted onto “The Painted Bird.” Perhaps fate itself was a Russian doll. And Jurek’s leap into the darkness was another matryoshka, a doll without end.

It was a great deal of bile and misinformation from Kosinski detractors that contributed to Kosinski’s suicide in 1991 at the age of 57. And perhaps it was also part of fate. Anyone familiar with the work of Jerome Charyn knows that he’s most interested in the underdog, the person trapped in a corner fighting to find a way out. As the novel progresses, we see how the life and times of Jerzy Kosinski, the truth and the legend, all add up to a subject worthy of Charyn’s fiction.

What Charyn’s novel can do, with its brilliant satirical bite, is compel readers to learn more about Jerzy Kosinski, one of the great writers of the 20th century. It’s as easy as surfing the net to learn more. If you watch the documentary below, for example, you get a multifaceted look at Kosinski, his life and his work. It’s not a simple story, as Charyn’s novel attests. Truth is stranger than fiction and fiction seeks a greater truth:

“Jerzy” is a 240-page paperback, published by Bellevue Literary Press. For more information, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Review: BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

Yuri and Stavrogin: It is a matter of trust.

In Herman Melville’s last novel, “Billy Budd,” we follow the fate of an orphan plucked from adversity and conscripted into the British Royal Navy. In the graphic novel by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, the lost little orphan is carted off into the service of the Soviet Union. Like Melville’s main character, there is something special about this boy. As we find in much of Charyn’s work, we have a protagonist of limited means compelled to honor his great potential. However, as we begin, we have only an emotionally stunted, ignorant lad with a hideous harelip. It is 1954. Stalin is in power. Yuri cannot resist all that is offered to him by the Soviets. In fact, he has no choice. “Billy Bud, KGB,” originally released in France in 1990, has recently been re-issued, with a new English translation by Jerome Charyn, by Dover Comics and Graphic Novels.

Four graphic novels by Jerome Charyn, available from Dover Publications.

Mr. Charyn’s literary career began in America in 1964 with his first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” a story of underdogs fighting to remain in their tenement apartment. After 19 prose novels, including the Isaac Sidel crime noir series, Charyn decided to adapt one of his stories into a graphic novel. That led to more. It all began with 1987’s “The Magician’s Wife,” with artist François Boucq. They also collaborated on 2014’s “Little Tulip.” Another graphic novel by Charyn in a similar spirit is 1991’s “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” with artist Jacques de Loustal. All four of these stories have multi-layered plots, primarily set in New York City, and filled with offbeat characters.

Yuri encounters the spiritual realm.

Our main character, Yuri, seems to be a typical malleable cog but something burns inside him making him go astray. He is far too innocent and ignorant to be in command of his intuitive desire to rebel. All he knows is that there must be more to life than what his Soviet handlers are telling him. Luckily, Yuri stumbles into a friendship with an instructor that will inform the rest of his life. Comrade Grigori’s unique artistic skills and broad knowledge have made him an asset over the years at the KGB training camp. But that same treasure trove of knowledge makes him very dangerous to the Soviet agenda. As a tutor, mentor, and friend, he provides Yuri with a key to unlock his soul.

It’s not easy being a spy.

By fits and starts, Yuri emerges as material for a competent secret agent. The KGB arranges a few encounters with prostitutes in order to, in their view, make Yuri more worldly. And then he’s shipped off to America. His new identity, a knowing nod to Melville: William “Billy” Budd, the lost soul. It will be up to the newly minted Billy in New York City to struggle with his life’s purpose. Stavrogin plucked him out of a ditch and gave him a future. Grigori opened his eyes to life’s possibilities. And Red Eagle, a Native American mystic, may offer him the salvation he’s hungered for all along.

Yuri gains a deeper spiritual connection.

Both Charyn and Boucq work in such a synchronized and nuanced manner that was as rare a treat then as it is now. Such pairing can only happen when the time is right. Today, readers in America and in general, are far more receptive to this level of quality. While a unique challenge, some creators choose to control all aspects of their work alone. But, as this graphic novel collaboration makes clear, the results can be stunning when writer and artist work together. We can all thank novelist Jerome Charyn for being a true trailblazer in adding his unique literary talent to the pantheon of exemplary work in comics. This book is a mesmerizing story and comics of the first order.

BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

“Billy Bud, KGB” is a 144-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here. You can find it at Amazon right here.

Also note a Kickstarter campaign going on now thru May 21st for a deluxe reprint of FAMILY MAN, a collaboration between Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, François Boucq, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jerome Charyn, Russia, Soviet Union, Spies

Review: REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

A vast and desolate wasteland, suitable for any action or exploitation movie, serves as the magnificent backdrop for REVENGER & THE FOG, the second collected volume of the ongoing Revenger comic book series by Charles Forsman. What I readily come away with is this: a horror schlock genre opens up a wide field for comics but it’s not so easy to get it right. You need a strong narrative backbone to keep all the flesh and blood moving along. Forsman jiggles it all into place with a masterful touch.

An instant taxicab ride.

Quentin Tarantino easily comes to mind as a practitioner of the type of movie terror that Forsman is channeling. Everything and everyone is cast in a pale yellow light of sheer desperation. We know from the get-go that the characters that dwell within mostly, or exclusively, eat raw meat…perhaps drink blood too. It is nothing to them to humiliate, mutilate,…well, you get the picture. A little goes a long way. Not my preferred cup of tea but, then again, it all depends upon the writing. Forsman is sensitive to those proper modulations of gore.

No one messes with Revenger!

As I understand it, Reggie, aka Revenger, is a one-woman force of nature, easily the lone wolf but open to companionship from time to time. For this collection, we follow Revenger when she belonged to a vigilante gang known as The Fog in Los Angeles in the late ’70s. This is a most unlikely assembling of brute force and cunning not seen since the A-Team. Revenger has fallen head over heels for Jenny, aka Dynarat. It is a love affair fraught with danger and ill-fated beyond words. Billy, aka Slim, offers some crude technical skill. Tara, aka Scalpel, is a martial arts guru.

The basic story here is a goofy nihilist joy ride. Dynarat is kidnapped by her abusive movie mogul father. Revenger must find a way to rescue her. The story dares you to take it seriously. Within context, it works its magic, much in the same way as other forms of parody and good obsessive autobio can sway the reader. The intriguing thing about this comic is that Forsman, like Tarantino, is intimately involved with his subject matter, both playfully satirizing it as well as paying it respect. There is irony but it’s not all irony. It’s a joke but it’s not all a joke. Essentially, Forsman works from a platform that provides exhilarating freedom for a cartoonist to take big risks: the arena of pure artifice, pure entertainment.

Revenger tells it like it is.

Forsman has an admirable control over some pretty weird proceedings and keeps to a steady pace, mindful of the distinct journey each character is on. It is one thing to create a scene with some impressive slicing and dicing of body parts. But your story will never truly succeed if no one cares. We care about all the characters in this story, even the most repulsive ones. We don’t wish the villains well but we do get caught up in them.

Well, you get caught up in everyone’s business as much as you please. This is a deliciously artificial world we are navigating through. No wonder this gritty pumped up terrain, this hyperreal wasteland, attracts some of the most creative minds. You can mix and match an endless sea of possibilities: the inane headbutts the profound.

Forsman, much like his contemporary Michel Fiffe (COPRA), has the admirable distinction of tackling all aspects of his work: the writing, the drawing, and even the coloring. While pretty common in indie circles, this kind of involvement is nearly unheard of within corporate comic book publishers. In the case of Forsman, he does quite well in serving his cryptic vision alone. His wiry characters get bathed in just the right quirky color schemes. Tongues can stick out and be painted a bright fire engine red! It all makes sense: perfectly oddball and compelling story, art, and colors.

The world of action B-movies, it turns out, is just another world, with as much to offer as any wonderland or netherworld. And, as I suggested early, it is a satisfying and quite apt playground for comics. There is a thread from Herriman’s Krazy Kat to Kaz’s Underworld to Forsman’s Revenger comics. A final thought: After you complete the main story, you have an extra feature which is Revenger lost, appropriately enough, in a hell hole. It is a fitting end to a most intriguing collection of work.

REVENGER & THE FOG, the second volume of Revenger comics, is a 160-page full color trade paperback, published by Bergen Street Press. For more details, and how to purchase the work of both Charles Forsman and Michel Fiffe, visit Bergen Street Press right here. Visit Charles Forsman right here. And be sure to stop by and consider becoming a patron of Charles Forsman at his Patreon right here.

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Filed under Bergen Street Press, Charles Forsman, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dash Shaw, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Michel Fiffe, Satire

Review: SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

A young adventurous woman, her pro camera, her motorcycle, and a most top secret site bursting with supernatural activity. All these elements come together nicely in the new graphic novel thriller, “Spill Zone,” written by Scott Westerfeld, drawn by Alex Puvilland, colors by Hilary Sycamore, published by First Second Books.

You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

One thing I do want to tuck in here: you rarely see a brand name in a graphic novel. But no harm in showing one on occasion. In this case, our main character relies upon a Canon camera. I say to that, bravo. You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

Back to our story: something really weird happened to the little town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Was it an accident involving nano technology and the local nuclear power plant? Are space aliens involved? No one dares to enter the Spill Zone, except for the local thrill-seeking artist, Addison Merritt. She sneaks past checkpoints, takes photos, and sneaks back home.

Rules of the Game.

It’s now just Addie and her younger sister, Lexa, ever since the accident took the lives of their parents. Westerfeld’s script seamlessly brings in various details. Puvilland’s lean style sets the tone. Sycamore’s colors dazzle the eye as they match the story’s mood.

The best thing about this graphic novel is that it successfully takes a lot of crazy fun ideas and lets them run wild. For a while, we don’t know why Addie keeps risking her life to take photos within a toxic spill zone. A big part of it has to do with her stumbling upon a way to support herself and her sister. She sells her photography for top dollar to art collectors. But it gets more complex than that.

Addie and some toxic rats.

Both Addie and her troubled little sis Lex are being lured into something far more dark and sinister. By the end of this book, we have gotten to know these two girls fairly well. We have also gotten to know Verpertine, the doll that talks only to Lex. Vespertine dials up the creepy factor whenever she appears and is one of the compelling reasons to look forward to the next volume to this series.

SPILL ZONE is a full color 224-page hardcover available as of May 2nd. For more details, and how to purchase, go to the Spill Zone website right here.

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Filed under Canon cameras, Comics, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Photography