Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.

I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.

Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!

So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.

Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.

The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.

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Comics Grinder Winter Giveaway!

It’s time for a Comics Grinder Winter Giveaway!

I have some treasures to give away. Here is the plan: I will mail out any of these treats to you in return for a little good cheer back. My prime objective is to get more folks to become aware of my book of collected works in comics, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories.” What I ask of you is to read the book and give it a review on Amazon. Of course, say whatever you like. I will truly appreciate the feedback. And it can be as short and sweet as you like too. You can easily purchase my book (or read for free) at Amazon. Just go right here. I think this will be a natural fit for my thoughtful readers.

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Review: ‘Diario de Oaxaca’ by Peter Kuper

“Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper

Peter Kuper is one of the great cartoonists and any book by him is a treat. In this case, you have a highly creative individual out and about for two years in a most stimulating environment, Mexico, specifically in Oaxaca. What could be better than his sketchbook journal of his two years there? The paperback version of his “Diario de Oaxaca” recently came out from PM Press.

Pages from “Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper

Kuper follows his heart and stream of thought to deliver page after page of enchanting work. He has a special multi-colored pencil that he uses. The lead in the pencil is made up of various colors. That allows much greater spontaneity as he can instantly shift the pencil to get a different color and then another and so on. He seems to have most fun with creating work that has that look of being on the fly–but can also be a mix of a long day, or night, of contemplation.

The sense of excitement and discovery is palpable. In a similar quick manner, he jots down numerous observations in prose as well. The joie de vivre takes a decidedly sober tone as Kuper finds himself covering a fight between strikers and government troops that left more than 20 people dead, including American journalist Brad Will. The end result is that Kuper manages to capture both the light and the dark of Oaxaca in an extarordinary collection of dispatches.

“Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico” is a 208-page paperback with full color artwork throughout. For more details, visit PM Press right here.

Book Giveaway: Be sure to visit tomorrow when the Comics Grinder Winter Giveaway kicks off. Among the items that will be available will be a copy of “Diario de Oaxaca.”

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Book Review: WHY COMICS? by Hillary Chute

WHY COMICS? by Hillary Chute

“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” by Hillary Chute, published by HarperCollins, is a highly informative, accessible, and delightful look at the evolution of comics, with the primary focus on American comics. As the title suggests, what used to be strictly an underground thing has now emerged virtually everywhere. Chute’s goal is to unpack that phenomenon. She goes about it with great enthusiasm and clearly makes a significant contribution to the ongoing writing about comics. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture, comics, and art in general.

Zap Comix #1, 1968

Okay, so comics are everywhere. Who, for instance, are the characters gracing the cover to this book? Chute, a natural teacher, is so glad you asked. She will come right out and tell you who and then explain the interconnections. First of all, this is Maggie and Hopey, lead characters in what is understood by many to be the greatest ongoing comic of them all, “Love and Rockets,” by the Hernandez Brothers. Where did this comic come from? How does it fit in with other comics? Why is this comic significant? Ah, for that matter, you may shout out, “Why Comics?!” Chute is happy to answer all your questions and much more. Well, this comic is part of a second wave of underground comics in the ’80s. And this comic is a response to a lot of things, including a lack of diversity in mainstream comics. But, before that, there was the original wave of underground comics in the Sixties led by R. Crumb and his Zap Comix. And, as many a conversation on the comics convention floor on zines and mini-comics will attest, even today’s superhero comics genre all began as indie comics by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Page excerpt from Art Spiegelman’s MAUS

Chute’s search for patterns in the making of comics leads her to some of the most celebrated trailblazers, notably Art Spiegelman. Chute was the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the definitive companion to Spiegelman’s “Maus,” and she has a great deal of insight to share. Chute guides the reader from Spiegelman, in his youth in San Francisco to his subsequent work in earnest. It was in 1972 that Justin Green, author of the first autobio comic, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” invited Spiegelman to contribute to a comics anthology. The only stipulation was that the work had to feature anthropomorphic animal characters. And so began Spiegelman’s first steps toward the work in comics most people are aware of, “Maus.” Chute then follows Spiegelman’s progress as he reaches great heights of creativity. Here below, Chute describes how Spiegelman plays with the fluidity of time:

“Spiegelman creates a physical connection between panels set in the past and panels set in the present, linking them, as in panels in which Art’s cigarette smoke is figured as the smoke coming out of an Auschwitz crematorium chimney directly below it on the page. But in others, he exploits the language of comics–the convention that each panel represents a distinct moment of time–to make two different time periods literally intertwine. We see this in the striking page in which Vladek, Art, and Françoise–herself a character in ‘Maus’–converse in the Catskills during a summer visit to Vladek’s bungalow. On their way to the supermarket in the car, Art changes the topic from his stepmother, Mala, to Auschwitz, asking his father about a prisoner revolt. The last panel of the page, in which Vladek describes its fallout, is its largest: as the family car weaves through dense rural roads, the legs of four Jewish girls hanged in Auschwitz after the revolt–witnessed firsthand by Vladek–suddenly appear dangling from the trees. The 1940s and the ’70s collapse, as Spiegelman shows, wordlessly, how the traumatic past lives on in the present.”

Page excerpt from Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS

Much in the same way that the 1951 landmark coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, became the template for aspiring young novelists, so too did “Maus” serve as a guide for cartoonists on the rise. Observe how Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” first published in 2000, follows a similar format and technique as Spiegelman’s landmark work. Certainly, Satrapi’s work is wonderfully original. That said, it does follow certain style and content choices first established by leading artists such as Spiegelman. Chute is not making this particular argument but she does lay out the characteristics of what has become accepted in a work by an independent cartoonist: the work is honest, personal, and usually autobiographical; the work is all done by hand, including the borders and lettering, with a less polished finish than mainstream comics; and the work is usually done by one person. In that sense, Satrapi is following in a tradition begun by such artists as Crumb and Spiegelman.

Panel excerpt from Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES

Another cartoonist who looms larger in Chute’s book is Chris Ware–and for good reason. The history of American comics is essentially Winsor McCay leading the start and Chris Ware leading the current state of affairs. And it is both of these cartoonists, and so many others in between, who seem to share Ware’s tragicomic point of view of being “well-appointed and feeling lonely.” Cartoonists are something of exotic birds to begin with–whether or not the public notices. But to really make one’s mark in comics, to resonate with critics and fans alike, is quite an achievement. One achieved by such cartoonists as Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Gary Panter–all of whom would get their big breaks by appearing in Raw magazine, a comics anthology led by Art Spiegelman.

Gary Panter cover for Raw #2.1, 1989

Chute organzies her narrative within categories such as “Why Disaster?” and “Why Sex?” Each chapter category acts as an umbrella that covers a certain facet of comics. In the chapter, “Why Punk?” Chute describes the rise of two friends deeply involved with the punk movement: Matt Groening and Gary Panter, along with other relevant artists like Raymond Pettibon. As for Groening and Panter, they held to their punk ideals while also driven to succeed–“The Simpsons” for Groening; “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for Panter. Chute makes sure to point out that Bart Simpson–the cartoon character everyone thinks they know–is, in fact, a sly reference (right down to the jaggedy crewcut) to Panter’s underground hero, Jimbo, the antithesis of the mainstream. And, as Chute’s title declares, comics have gone from the underground to everywhere in more ways than one.

Matt Groening holds up Bart Simpson and Gary Panter’s Jimbo

“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere” is a 464-page hardcover published by HarperCollins. For more details, visit HarperCollins right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Art Spiegelman, Book Reviews, Comics, graphic novels, Hillary Chute, Maus, mini-comics, pop culture, Underground Comics, Zines

420TV Acquires SUPER SLACKERS from David Silverman, Director-Animator of THE SIMPSONS

SUPER SLACKERS on 420TV

As cannabis steadily moves from counterculture to mainstream, the time is perfect for 420TV, the new hub for cannabis news and entertainment, set to launch in early 2018. One of the new shows on 420TV will be a first-run animated series from long-time director of “The Simpsons,” David Silverman. Created for mature audiences, “SUPER SLACKERS” is a comedy about a group of lazy friends unwittingly thrust into the life of superheroes.

Another distinctive feature of this show is that it will be voiced by a a veritable “who’s who” of social influencers whose combined following tops 35 million. “SUPER SLACKERS” features hip-hop artist/actor Jerry Purpdrank; video/music producer & infamous slap-cammer Max Jr.; martial artist, dancer & comedian Dan Nampaikid; professional soccer player-turned-actor, director & content creator, Jon Paul Piques; Smosh YouTube star Olivia Sui; stand-up comedian/writer Arantza Fahnbulleh; and traditional actor/comedian Mickey Gooch, who was recently featured in the hit movie “How to Be Single,” and the indie comedies “Clapper” and “Deported.”

420TV.com

The animated series’ six-episode first season follows a group of friends who discover they have superpowers after their weed is switched with a new strain being used in a government experiment. When a Professor Xavier-type shows up to train them, they have no interest in saving the world. They agree to move into a rent-free government compound, but all they want to do is watch TV and play video games. The Professor is convinced he can turn them into the heroes that the world needs — but can he do it before their infectious laziness spreads to the rest of the agents?

“SUPER SLACKERS” is created and directed by David Silverman (“The Simpsons”), written by Joelle Sellner (“Sonic Boom”) and animated by Mike Blum (Pipsqueak). Executive Producers are Mickey Gooch (Skit Bags Entertainment), Warren Zide (“American Pie”), digital entertainment manager/attorney Ash Venkatram and entrepreneur Ranajit Chaudhury. Usman Shaikh is Co-Executive Producer. The series was introduced to 420TV by talent manager Leanne Perice.

SUPER SLACKERS on 420TV

“‘SUPER SLACKERS’ is the first original animated series from a director in the traditional space that leverages the talents and audience of household digital stars,” said Ash Venkatram. “By choosing a racially diverse cast and throwing them into the culture of cannabis, we hope to give viewers a refreshing change from the vanilla content they normally consume on linear television.”

“420TV is thrilled to be offering the latest animated comedy created by David Silverman, a wonderfully gifted animator who has a long history of producing tremendously successful shows. His new, first-run series, which will make its global premiere on 420TV, is equal parts funny, twisted and cool. ‘SUPER SLACKERS’ is also a perfect complement to our lineup, as we look to create and secure cannabis-friendly content for both the converted and the curious,” said Alex Nahai, a partner in 420TV.

Added David Silverman: “I couldn’t imagine a more fitting home for ‘SUPER SLACKERS’ than 420TV, with its appeal to a very open-minded, socially connected audience.”

Debuting in early 2018, and initially available through 420TV.com and its mobile applications, 420TV is a premium 4K video-on-demand network devoted to all things cannabis. It will deliver original programming produced exclusively for the multi-platform channel, in addition to acquired long and short-form entertainment. Content categories in development include news, information, food, fashion, comedy, music and animation, as well as acquired feature films, documentaries, music and live streaming events. 420TV was developed by 420 Entertainment Group, comprised of OWNZONES Media Network, Genesis Media and Alex Nahai Enterprises. For more information, follow www.420TV.com.

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Filed under Cannabis, Comedy, Entertainment, Humor, Marijuana, pop culture, Television, The Simpsons

Movie Review: HANGMAN

HANGMAN

A good crime story is about seeing all the elements in a set of circumstances falling into place one by one. “Hangman” fits the bill as it proves to be a competent thriller. This has Al Pacino, a personal favorite. The lead, however, edges a bit closer to Karl Urban, who commands the screen with a measured presence. There are enough chills and thrills to this for me to recommend it. I would not put it up there with anything iconic like, say, “Silence of the Lambs,” but it is well-crafted. I don’t especially seek out serial killer thrillers. I do understand their popularity so I remain open-minded to the genre. In this case, like the title suggests, this is a crowd-pleaser. And, for at least one particular scene, it did keep me on the edge of my seat.

Again, keep in mind that the great Al Pacino plays Ray Archer, a homicide detective here. Pacino brings some very compelling moments to this movie. His authority gives everything on the screen legitimacy. He makes the gritty that much more gritty. And he’s definitely a thoughtful and generous actor who brings out the best in his co-stars, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow. Urban plays Will Ruiney, the detective still grieving over the mysterious murder of his wife. Snow plays Christi Davies, the embedded reporter in what rapidly becomes the greatest case ever confronted by Archer and Ruiney. Pacino also inspires other key players: Sarah Shahi as Capt. Watson; Joe Anderson as Hangman; and Sloane Warren as Dr. Abby Westlin.

If you’re a fan of police procedurals, especially of the CSI variety, there is plenty to like here. I thought the scenes in the morgue were well above average. Sloane Warren steals the show as the coroner, Dr. Abby Westlin. She turns out to be an old pal of Archer who, by the way, has come out of retirement for this big case. It seems as if every bit of her background is put to use. There is another scene, as things are heating up, where Westlin’s skills of deduction lead everyone closer to finding the killer. And that is essential since this killer is killing people as casually as a game of hangman.

As an ensemble cast, Pacino, Urban, and Snow work quite well together. Their characters make sense and naturally grow as the plot develops. This is directed by Johnny Martin, with a script from Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger. It is currently available for viewing through Google. While this is not exactly going to put you in the holiday mood, it may hit the spot when seeking a change of pace in your movie viewing this month. Who knew “Krampus” would do so well, right? Think of this as sort of a “Krampus” crime thriller.

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Review: ‘Colonial Comics: New England: 1620 – 1750’

“Colonial Comics: New England 1620 – 1750”

“Colonial Comics” is a trilogy of anthology comics, published by Fulcrum. The first part to the series sets the tone and covers the period known for the Puritans and Plymouth Rock; the iconic Native American guide Squanto; John Winthrop; Cotton Mather; and the Salem witch trials. Editor Jason Rodriguez is highly sensitive to what, for him, amounts to confronting a lot of New England factoids fed to him in childhood. A lot of cartoonists in and around the East Coast can relate to that view and it is this regional zest for fresh insight that powers this series. This is just the sort of book to spark conversation, excite readers of all ages interested in American history, and add a little spice to holiday gift-giving.

“Garden in the Wilderness”

Some fine examples include “Garden in the Wilderness,” story by Matt Boehm and art by Ellen T. Crenshaw. This comics follows the struggles of free thinker Roger Williams to create his own colony of Providence Plantations. He learns the detailed art of persistence despite his outspoken nature. Boehm and Crenshaw work well together in stitching together some very compelling scenes. In the case of Williams, it was a case of political maneuvering. This is in stark contrast to the fate of another free thinker, Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from her home for her strong opinions.

“The Missing Cheese”

Among a number of unusual tales, perhaps the most offbeat is “The Missing Cheese,” story and art by Sarah Winifred Searle. Here we follow the bumpy journey of Mary Huntris who must live down a youthful folly of petty theft. Later, once she is an established member of the community, circa 1675, she must deal with a thief after her own property: a boy who steals her prized packets of home-made cheese. As a woman, she is instantly blamed for setting up the child. If not for her husband defending her, Mary Huntris would have been arrested.

“The Press’s Widow: Elizabeth Glover”

What each story in this series has in common is that, in one form or another, it is addressing how those without power were mistreated, abused, and exploited–which included anyone who was not a white male. And, if not outright hurt, then the disenfranchised could expect less in life. Another moving tale in this book is “The Press’s Widow: Elizabeth Glover,” story by Erika Swyler, art by Noel Tuazon, and lettering by Jason Hanley. Here we follow the journey of Goody Glover. She inherits a printing press that will ultimately lead to publication of a number of celebrated works. But she can only stand by as the men in her life oversee its operation.

“Troublesome Sows”

Another engaging comic is “Troublesome Sows,” story by Virginia DeJohn Anderson and art by Michael Sgier. This comic features the struggle endured by Native Americans as settlers from the New World steadily encroached upon their lands and livelihood. In this case, the settlers have let loose their livestock to a free-range buffet of all the Native American crops. In this wordless comic, we follow the frustrated victims of sows run amok. Finally, in a familiar trail of tears, the Native Americans find no other solution but to abandon their lands.

This book, and the rest of this series, is highly recommended for any reader. “Colonial Comics: New England, 1620 – 1750” is a 208-page trade paperback, in full color, published by Fulcrum Publishing. For more details, be sure to visit the Colonial Comics website right here.

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Review: ‘The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery, Volume One’

“The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Vol. 1: From Sherlock Holmes to A Clockwork Orange to Jo Nesbø”

Jerome Charyn, one of our great writers, known for his Isaac Sidel mystery series among many other works, has said that “all novels are crime novels.” It is an intriguing idea. You may as well take it a step further and say that all narrative, even the Bible, shares something with the genre. It is in that spirit that Russ Kick brings us the latest in his series of great works of fiction adapted into the comics medium. “The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery Volume 1” is published by Seven Stories Press.

This is a take on the crime & mystery genre that proves quite refreshing and a true eye-opener. Russ Kick, in the role of curator/editor, has taken an offbeat path in order to emphasize just how diverse and unpredictable his subject can be. Kick goes so far as to not include any adaptation of two of the most prominent names of all: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Perhaps he’s saving them for another volume. As a cartoonist myself, I would find those two irresistible for adaptation. But I also appreciate that Kick is playing with a delicate balance of mixing the familiar with surprising elements. Take the cover image. What on earth is going on there? A woman has been left tied up to a bed as a man creeps upstairs. Kick manages to keep just the right unsettling vibe running throughout this impressive anthology.

Good crime fiction keeps you on your toes. You are not supposed to be on solid ground. You are supposed to expect the unexpected. To set the mood, as well as provide the necessary framework, Kick has done away with chronology and has organized each adaptation within chapter categories: The Act; Criminals; Whodunit; Judgment; and Punishment. Take the judgment theme, for example. Within that one you have a story from the Bible, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” a story from Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” and Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Neither of these would seem to be an obvious fit. There are certainly no gumshoe detectives here. But there is undeniable intrigue, and each story revolves around a crime. It is in Hawthorne’s case that we have that persistent double layer of gloom that resonates with a contemporary reader.

Excerpt from “The Scarlet Letter”

One of my earliest reviews of comics was the work of Sophia Wiedeman. I am quite taken with her eerie and understated comics. It is very nice to see her adaptation here of “The Scarlett Letter.” Hawthorne, like Washington Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson, is a true master of early American psychological thrillers. Wiedeman’s adaptation evokes the chilling air surrounded by poker face Puritans hungry for self-righteous violence.

Excerpt from “Headhunters”

But you really cannot deny yourself altogether the grit, glamour, and style that is so inextricably linked to the crime & mystery genre. The one piece that really satisfies that “To Catch a Thief” vibe is an adaptation of “Headhunters” by Jo Nesbø. If the name is not familiar, then maybe you have not tuned into the crime fiction trend coming out of Scandinavia and known as “Scandicrime.” Who knew. I have tended to see Scandinavians as rather mellow sensible sorts. But, no, push come to shove, and ditch the lutefisk in favor of brass knuckles. For this piece, Jackie Roche adapts a tale of a man leading a double life: corporate headhunter by day; master cat burglar by night. Roche has a perfectly light touch that gives this story an added touch of class.

Excerpt from “In Cold Blood”

For something decidedly chilling, there is the adaptation by Emi Gennis of the Truman Capote masterpiece, “In Cold Blood.” Gennis is another cartoonist I have followed and always find interesting. For her piece, she lets much of the plot speak for itself with minimal dialogue. Her stark and space style gives it all a nice edge.

Excerpt from “The Postman Always Rings Twice”

Sarah Benkin does something similar with her adaptation of the James M. Cain all-time classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Benkin’s approach brings home the old adage of how the best laid plans of mice and men can fail miserably.

Excerpt from “Strangers on a Train”

And one more: it’s fun to see a piece by Megan Kelso that turns up the heat on her usually reserved and understated style with her adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” It’s as if a lot of things that often go unsaid in a Kelso story are forced up a bit to the surface. That said, Kelso conceals where she needs to and leaves the reader wondering in the spirit of any good mystery.

“The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery, Vol. 1” is a 352-page trade paperback, available as of November 21, 2017, and published by Seven Stories Press.

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Review: ‘Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City’

Tenements, Towers, and Trash!

Cartoonist Julia Wertz has a distinctive outlook (irreverent, pithy, snarky) that has gained a loyal following of readers. With her latest work, she brings her unique style to bear on the Big Apple. It is an honest, funny, and insightful approach to learning about how cities evolve, particularly New York City, the quintessential urban mecca. Early in her cartooning career, Wertz said she resisted writing some sort of coming-of-age book set in NYC. Now, more mature, she can dish on the history of the city that never sleeps while also, inevitably, sharing something of her journey of self-discovery. It all makes for an intoxicating blend: “Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City,” published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

Wertz sets up a poignant and vulnerable starting point: the remains of the New York World’s Fair of 1964. It’s not a pretty sight. No, it’s a mishmash of faded totems to the future. Ironic stuff, indeed, irresistible to a wise-cracking cartoonist! Surely, you know that most, if not all, cartoonists have a sardonic sense of humor. And Julia Wertz is just the sort of sardonic tour guide you would want. But it’s not just about the snark–far from it. Sure, Wertz puts the 1964 World’s Fair through the wringer, deeming it a celebration of corporate-sponsored consumerism. Now, the 1939 New York World’s Fair had style but, in its own way, it too was a celebration of corporate-sponsored consumerism. This sort of comparison easily lends itself to delving deeper and therein lies what this book is about, what makes it unique and beautiful.

Egg Creams, best to keep them simple.

New York City is all about the tension between the pretty and the not so pretty. Wertz revels in this fact. It seems as if she can’t get enough. Just when you think you have this book figured out, Wertz will delight the reader with shifts in narrative, compelling visuals, and overall heart-felt enthusiasm, the sort of lust and vigor you’d expect from an Indiana Jones in the jungle except this is Julia Wertz on countless urban expeditions. She tracks down everything: bagels, egg creams, The Village Voice, railroad flats, micro-living units. It’s all here and then some.

I love New York almost beyond words. My heart goes out to Julia Wertz and her marvelous long walks spanning hours upon hours and covering multiple boroughs and miles. I highly recommend taking this book on a NYC trek of your own. It’s a hefty hardcover but, if you make it your primary item in your backpack, you’ll be just fine. You can make your own comparisons and connections guided by all the amazing drawings that Wertz has to share of bygone and contemporary New York. This book is really an inspiring combination of prose and artwork and comics. This is simply a dazzling book collecting a treasure trove of insight and information and making it all feel like a carefree conversation.

223 W. 42nd Street in 1964 and in 2014.

“Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City” is a 284-page hardcover published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

If you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see Julia Wertz at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run, or the the Seattle Public Library. At Short Run, on November 4th, Wertz will be giving a slideshow/talk about her urban exploring from 3:30-4:30pm at the Vera Project. And at the downtown Seattle Public Library, on November 5th, Wertz will hold a slideshow and conversation with cartoonist Nicole Georges from 2-4pm.

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City of Seattle Commissions Graphic Novel To Promote Historic Steam Plant

Drawing by David Lasky

Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.

Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”

David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.

West elevation exterior of engine room.
The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.

Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:

What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?

Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)

Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?

David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.

Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?

I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.

What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?

Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.

You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.

And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.

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Filed under Comics, David Lasky, graphic novels, Mairead Case, Seattle, Seattle-Georgetown, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Story, Storytelling, writers, writing