I don’t think you can sue a fictional character for having said something that came from her fictional mind in a work that is fiction. Can you? Well, Paul Brodeur is going to take a stab at it. Actually, he’s targeted some deep pockets that are everything but fictional. Paul Brodeur is a science journalist who was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly 40 years. In the film, “American Hustle,” the character Roslyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) tells her husband, Irving (played by Christian Bale) that “microwaves take the nutrition out of food.” “That’s bullshit,” Irving replies, and his wife shows him a magazine and says, “It’s not bullshitt. I read it in an article. Look, by Paul Brodeur.”
Brodeur claims that this exchange between fictional characters, in a work of fiction, has damaged his career since he’s never actually stated that “microwaves take the nutrition out of food.” The solution, of course, is to sue the companies that produced and distributed the film, Columbia Pictures, Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures.
Good luck with that, Mr. Brodeur. Personally, I tend to think that microwaves do take the nutrition out of food. So, sue me.
Charles Yu is the author of the novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and the short story collections “Third Class Superhero” and “Sorry Please Thank You.” In 2007, Yu won the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award. When discussing Yu’s work, Italo Calvino comes up as does Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. What strikes me is Yu’s flair for a natural and casual humor mixed in with philosophical musings and various games with language and narrative. You can read my review of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” right here.
The Girl in the Cafe and an Ionized Environment
Art and fiction by Henry Chamberlain
She sat at her regular table on the second floor of her favorite cafe. It was the same old crowd. It was a steamy summer day. She had the whole world before her. There was the Space Needle right out the window to keep her company. She made herself comfortable. She wiggled her toes. Someone was overheard saying, “An ionized environment really helps.”
It’s good and natural to have well known writers spend some time with total strangers. It’s all about context. The writer, whether a giant in a niche market or an all-around best-selling star, knows that life is a bit absurd, fame is fickle, and that the vast majority of people have no idea who he or she is. That stranger, and that stranger over there, and that one too, all gather at a meetup, and at least they know something about the writer. Most likely they’ve read some of his work. Most likely they aspire to be writers themselves. Ah, much common ground to work from. And so that’s what I got to partake in for a little a while, a special moment. Hugh Howey was in town. He had delivered a lecture at Amazon earlier in the day. That night, a meetup was organized at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, which made for an excellent venue. It was a big group that became a smaller intimate group of new friends gathered to share a few ideas with a great writer.
Not all the work here is by cartoonists, per se, but most of it is and everyone here is part of the larger world of the graphic arts. We still live, may always live, in a world that, for the most part, thinks of cartoonists as only one thing. However, “The Graphic Canon,” edited by Russ Kick, and published by Seven Stories Press, gives you a taste of what is possible. You are certainly in capable hands with Russ Kick, bestselling author of “You a Are Being Lied To” and “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”
This is a remarkable project that takes on the world of literature on a grand scale with Volume 3 dedicated to the 20th Century. Ah, the 20th Century, it was a time dominated by the most heroic and romantic of rebels. You are sure to find your favorite rabble rouser in this colossal book, heroic in its own right. It weighs in at 564 pages, literally a phone book worth of literary artistic expression, so the odds are in your favor.
Like a classroom full of gifted children, each artist here has taken their chosen work of literature, immersed themselves in it, and turned in their best effort. Not all the contributions here are exclusive to this book but most are. And, like thoughtful and caring students, these artists don’t let ego get in the way or stray too far from the goal. They fall into two lines of attack: illustration and adaptation. Within these two camps, we get just about everything under the sun, an exciting array of talent, over 80 artists, that will please hardcore lit fans and newbies alike. Among previously published work, there is Robert Crumb’s rarely-seen adaptation of Sartre’s “Nausea.” Another gem is David Lasky‘s unique take on “Ulysses.” Reproduced here, you get the original 1993 mini-comic version.
“Ulysses,” adapted by David Lasky
Check out the first pages of this book to find a homage to “Heart of Darkness.” Matt Kish is known for creating illustrations for each page of “Moby Dick.” Here you see him bring that same level of obsession to Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece. Reproduced are some selected illustrations with the promise from Kish will go on to fully illustrate “Darkness” page per page.
“Heart of Darkness” illustration by Matt Kish
Ellen Lindner‘s illustration for “The Bell Jar” sums up in great measure the internal struggle that Sylvia Path attempted to endure.
“The Bell Jar” illustration by Ellen Lindner
Tara Seibel provides some fanciful illustrations for “The Great Gatsby” that evoke the jazz age.
“The Great Gatsby” illustration by Tara Seibel
Among the adaptations, Julia Gfrörer gives us some very intriguing images inspired by Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum.” In the introduction, Russ Kick helps the casual reader to relate by jokingly suggesting that Umberto Eco’s masterwork is a much more complex version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Full of metaphysical and philosophical observation, it centers on three characters who work at a vanity press who concoct elaborate conspiracy theories and then discover that maybe they’re true. Julia Gfrörer is clearly up to the task.
“Foucault’s Pendulum” adaptation by Julia Gfrörer
I think this unusual adaptation by Julia Gfrörer is a good place to linger since it goes a long way in representing the best you will find in this book. Gfrörer has taken on a wildly complex novel, found an opening, what she entitles, “The Chymical Wedding,” that explores the alchemical wedding in “Foucault’s Pendulum” and runs with it. This certainly doesn’t come across as Lit 101 filtered through comics. No, it does what you’d hope for: Gfrörer wears Umberto Eco like a well-worn pair of pajamas. Is that appropriate? If you don’t feel comfortable with what you’re doing, how will your reader? Gfrörer lets herself go and, without trying too hard, turns in her assignment. It’s just what editor Russ Kick would have expected.
This is the thing, there are any number of ways to go about your adaptation. “The Mowers,” by D.H. Lawrence, for example, is pretty straightforward and has a deft and gentle touch by Bishakh Som.
“The Mowers,” adapted by Bishakh Som
Another ethereal and arresting approach comes from Caroline Picard with her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “The Voyage Out.”
“The Voyage Out,” adapted by Caroline Picard
Emelie Östergren provides her heart-felt interpretation of “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs.
“Naked Lunch,” adapted by Emelie Östergren
“The Graphic Canon, Volume 3” is such a mighty undertaking that you just can’t go wrong. I come back to the idea of a powerful vehicle that demonstrates what’s possible. We’d be fools to think we’ve got literature and fiction all figured out. And we’d be fools to think we have the comics medium all figured out. It’s a post-postmodern world, but that’s no excuse. There is something very traditional about writing stories and creating comics and that’s quite alright.
Issues of storytelling will not be resolved in the 21st Century and never will be. If Russ Kick is around (gee, anything is possible), or maybe a descendent or disciple, we will find that Volume 4’s tribute to the 21st Century (available only digitally?) will continue the good fight for a good story. And we will find that all three volumes of “The Graphic Canon” have held up considerably well.
Visit Seven Stories Press here. You can also find “The Graphic Canon” by visiting Amazon here.
“The Fifty Year Sword,” the novella by Mark Z. Danielewski, seems to be the stuff of urban legend. The book was first published on Halloween 2005, in the Netherlands, with only 1,000 copies printed in English. The following year, another 1,000 copies in English were printed and that was it. Sccores of fans have only heard of it but have not been able to easily get to read it. That changes with the wide release on October 16, 2012. For those familiar with Mr. Danielewski’s work, particularly his “House of Leaves,” they know to expect intriguing play with narrative, words and graphics. And that is exactly what they get with this novella.
Mr. Danielewski is definitely not a writer who just holds with tradition. We can also see that he deeply respects the art of visual storytelling. The elements he incorporates have a sacred quality to them. You’ll be swept up by the ethereal embroidery artwork that intermingles with the text. You’ll also be caught up by the spontaneity: words seem to bubble up and spit out at just the right moment. As a ghost story for adults, this novella feels like Edgar Alan Poe at a poetry slam, just to give you an idea.
The story begins with the adults gathering to do their duty and attend the fiftieth birthday party for cantankerous Belinda Kite, someone they don’t particularly care for. We then shift our focus to the children who will be in attendance, a spooky set of five orphans who are chaperoned by befuddled Chintana and someone only known as, The Social Worker. Finally, we turn our attention to the truly spooky character at the center of it all, The Storyteller, who is inextricably linked to the eponymous sword and to the fate of each partygoer.
Part of the magic here is the word play, from creative spelling down to how the words are presented on the page. The same spirit of “House of Leaves” is here where typography will literary follow what transpires within the story. For those new to Mr. Danielewski, there will be that satisfying “shock of the new.” Some enjoyable new words you’ll find are Chinata’s choices: indacitation, torpididor and annahiliation. Characters here don’t just speak, they “sputstuttersob” or have a “rumbidilling” voice. They don’t simply creep around. They “diminishide.” Here is an example of what can happens to words in this world:
“‘the w orld there w as
“‘con st antly
“‘sev er ed.
This is how it looks on its actual page:
This passage is describing The Forest of Falling Notes which is part of The Storyteller’s journey that he is retelling to the five orphans as they sit in a cramp little parlor. It is dimly lit by five candles that reveal a most curious box with five latches. What is or is not significant about The Storyteller and his story will remain unclear in this absorbing ghost tale that becomes more mysterious, and haunting, to the very end.
“The Fifty Year Sword” is published by Random House. Visit Random House and learn about the special limited edition of “The Fifty Year Sword.”
Mark Z. Danielewski is known for his cult novel, “House of Leaves,” (2000). MZD’s work, while vastly experimental, also provides a rich narrative. As he puts it, his works require courage from the reader. That courage, his readers would say, is greatly rewarded. In this interview, we discuss the art of fiction, the writer’s struggle, the forthcoming ebook editions of “House of Leaves” and “Only Revolutions,” the October release of “The Fifty Year Sword,” as well as what lies ahead with MZD’s 27-volume, “The Familiar.”
From the start of this interview, MZD’s mind is playfully, poetically, constructing.
I hold up a party hat promotion for “The Fifty Year Sword” and make it sound like that’s the actual book. He, of course, runs with it! He looks over the party hat, reads the brief text and declares, “We’ve just read the whole book together!” We talk about “House of Leaves,” “The Fifty Year Sword” and the art of fiction. I ask what he thinks the great experimental writer, Donald Barthelme, would make of current trends and that sparks a wonderful reminiscence. The whole interview I found to be quite magical and I hope you will too.
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reeks of the past. It reeked of the past when it was first published in America in 1885. And it sure as hell reeks of the past today — but in a most glorious way. Mark Twain knew what we he was doing. He was fully engaged in the American scene, warts, bruises, gunshots and all. As I carry around an eReader with me, I am reading more of the books I’ve been meaning to read. This one has been high on my list. Today, being Memorial Day, seems a particularly appropriate time to consider this classic, although any day of the week will do as well.
Upon my reading, I come away with the conclusion that, despite the controversy, Mark Twain’s novel is indeed a landmark work of American fiction and, I’ll go one better, is essential. At this point, it’s hard to imagine it fading into obscurity and yet there are those who continue to try to see that happen. The arguement is that we, as a nation, have moved beyond such issues of race. But that’s really nothing more than an attempt to sweep things under the rug and isn’t the American rug already pretty lumpy from being swept under?
The biggest problem of all for “Huckleberry Finn” is the fact that it is a work of art. You see, a true work of art will always confound the literal-minded. As in life, and as in art, there are no neatly tied up resolutions. No, instead, ambiguity presides. The main character, Huck Finn, does not behave in a systematically heroic fashion. What he does is behave like a boy with a mind, heart and soul of his own. He makes numerous choices, not always the right ones. And, arguably, the other main character, Jim, the runaway slave who Huck has embarked upon a journey with, is not perfect either. Both are products of their time, America circa 1840, and both are individuals in search of freedom as they know it. Twain, the keen social observer, set up the perfect vehicle from which to comment on American life. He knew as well as anyone that the end of the American Civil War had not led to the freedom that African Americans had been promised. What it had led to was the dark era of Jim Crow, nearly a century of systematic racial discrimination from 1876 to 1965.
Twain maintains an impressive balancing act throughout the novel. The story is told by a thirteen-year-old and yet manages to bring about older insights. It is a story very much of its time, using language of its time, while still transcending it. And he adroitly shifts from broad humor to more poetic passages. There are three main parts to the story. There is the most poignant first part where we find Huck at the hands of his abusive father and his subsequent dreamlike escape on a raft with Jim. Then, after a number of mishaps, we settle into a long burlesque section where Jim and Huck are at the mercy of two con artists. And, finally, the last part finds Huck reunited with Tom Sawyer in a surreal episode where they appear to make an utter mockery of Jim’s plight as a runaway slave complete with torturing him with rats, spiders, snakes and a series of humiliations. This is the part that makes Hemingway have to add a disclaimer to his decree that all American fiction begins with “Huck Finn.” He concludes that the last twelve chapters are not worth a damn — which is rather meaningless. The fact is, taken as a whole, the novel does a fine job of revealing a nation struggling with its own dysfunction.
If anyone was expecting Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to have a perfect epiphany and, without hesitation or distraction, welcome Jim to his rightful place among humanity, Twain is there to say the reader has another thing coming. If a nation can hardly come to grips with what it has wrought, don’t expect two boys to figure it out. What they will do is mirror their own environment. And, with any luck, maybe they will rise above it because they should before too long. That is Twain’s hope for the characters, for his country, and for his readers. In time, with any luck, maybe we will all rise above what has been wrought because we should before too long.
The fact is that the building of a nation is, and always will be, a wild and wooly affair. There are things that can never be lived down and yet we must carry on. We must carry on because we have no choice but to do so. But to forget, no, that is taking things too far. Just as Twain will not let the reader off the hook when it comes to how two boys will behave, he is not going to make it comfortable regarding how a nation behaves. It should be as clear as day that Huck’s beloved friend, Jim, is not a “nigger,” in any sense of that word and yet Twain uses the term repeatedly as the characters in the book refer to him and to any African American. The word is used by the high and the low, from the most ignorant yokel to the country doctor. Huck uses it matter-of-factly without giving it a second thought. And that’s a huge point in the book. The word stings, it hurts and humiliates. But, if all the grown-ups are using it, then why should Huck question it, right? But, despite the predominant feelings of the time, Huck does question Jim’s state as a slave.
The controversy rages on about whether or not to teach this book in high school. To that problem, I suggest another way of looking at it. What if no one had been around to capture on video the beating of Rodney King? Or any number of acts that have occurred since then? We should think of “Huckleberry Finn,” in one sense, as a master recording of those sort of things, the things we wish would just go away or had just never happened. Instead of attempting to ban Mr. Twain’s book, we should be praising Mr. Twain. For those who think we’re better off with easy answers and forgetting the past, “Huckleberry Finn” is just the sort of book you should consider. As much as this classic is speaking to the past, like any excellent work of art, it clearly speaks to the present and the future.