Category Archives: Harlan Ellison

Graphic Novel Review: PHILIP K. DICK: A COMICS BIOGRAPHY

…as the walls start to cave in.

To the tell the story of a writer and the writing process is quite a unique challenge. Sure, you want to include some scenes of the writer  in the act of writing but then what do you do next? This new graphic novel, Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography, published by NBM, solves the problem very nicely. French writer Laurent Queyssi and Italian artist Mauro Marchesi bring to life a very unusual person, famous writer or not. The appeal of this book comes from how both writer and artist tease out for the reader a portrait of very delicate, chaotic, and brilliant individual. Let the details fall into place as events unfold. See how one person can be so blind to his own destiny while bursting with intelligence and creative output. After a while, you don’t care what he’s famous for. You’re just rooting for him to survive another night as the walls start to cave in all around him.

It’s perhaps helpful for me to mention that I’m putting together a book that parallels this book on Philip K. Dick in very interesting ways. My book is about another science fiction writer, George Clayton Johnson, who was born in 1929, roughly the same year as Dick but who enjoyed a happy and long life. Dick’s life was relatively short and not without its tragedy. Johnson and Dick are very different writers but they both were part of a certain time and sensibility. Even though Dick was somewhat of a recluse, he did enjoy connecting with people on occasion. Like Johnson, he got to know some of his heroes and colleagues in science fiction, like Harlan Ellison and A.E.van Vogt. Both Johnson and Dick had high ambitions. While Johnson generally flourished among people, Dick would much rather recede into the background. Both dared to be as nonconformist as possible. Dick was darker, stranger, and willing to open more doors into the unknown.

An honest assessment, that’s what we crave from a biography. NBM is certainly amassing quite an impressive collection of them. The trickiest to get right, and probably the most satisfying, is the exploration of a creative person and the creative process. That classic writer’s block is on full view on more than one occasion in this book as is the overall struggle in a person’s life. We get a very clear and precise picture that manages to keep to a steady chronological order with necessary temporal detours. This is Philip K. Dick under the microscope. Backed my thoughtful planning, Queyssi provides a script that seems to effortlessly bring into play a myriad of carefully researched dates, places, and times. When you think of it, Dick was essentially an enigma. You didn’t necessary go see Blade Runner with a clear picture of the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Mauro Marchesi’s artwork is as clean and crisp as Queyssi’s well-chosen words. Marchesi solves another challenge: finding just the right ways to evoke the fantastical in a story about a writer writing weird and strange content. You don’t just want to play with scale and have a scene with Dick reduced to the size of an insect just because you can! But that sort of thing is irresistible so you make the most of it and, when the time is right, Marchesi pulls out all the stops. He has some beautiful wordless sequences that definitely balance out a narrative that, at times, needs to rely more on text. One that really packs in just the right dose of mystery and ambiguity has Dick seated at a park bench trading in a gem for a book with a total stranger. Like spies passing through the night, they discretely make the switch, one finely polished gem for a book that points towards another book in Dick’s future.

For fans of Philip K. Dick, as well as new readers, this will prove to be an engaging read. As I say, after a while, you’re not thinking of Dick as just a famous writer. No, he’s got some pretty compelling ordinary problems of his own along with the extraordinary ones! One of the most fascinating aspects, however, does have to do with being a famous writer. Time and again you see Dick fighting against being known as a science fiction writer. Back then in what was its golden age, science fiction was snubbed as only being “genre.” You would think someone as smart as Dick could have seen through the snobbery of the literary establishment. But, no, even Philip K. Dick wasted precious time and energy desperately trying to fit in!

Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography is a 144-page full color hardcover. For more details, visit NBM Publishing right here.

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Filed under Biology, Comics, George Clayton Johnson, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Harlan Ellison, NBM, NBM Publishing, Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Star Trek: IDW Adapts Harlan Ellison’s ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’

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My favorite episode of the original Star Trek series is “Man Trap,” by George Clayton Johnson. But there are certainly plenty to choose from. One of the crown jewels is by the great scribe, Harlan Ellison, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Ellison’s teleplay, much like Johnson’s, went through revisions to make it a better fit for network television at the time. Now, thanks to IDW Plubishing, this classic story will be faithfully adapted as a five-issue comics series, just as Ellison had originally envisioned it.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Comics, Comics News, Gene Roddenberry, George Clayton Johnson, Harlan Ellison, IDW Publishing, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek

Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth


Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth is a wonderful look at the man and his work and, as Ellison agrees himself, is the closest you’ll get to know what it’s like to hang out with him. Whatever you may have heard about Harlan Ellison, this is a documentary you need to see. Harlan Ellison has filed numerous lawsuits and I don’t begin to take sides. The documentary doesn’t judge either. But, you most definitely can say, that the overriding legal concern is the rights of the artist and, for that, we can salute Ellison. “Don’t work for free, you should get paid,” is the central message here and it’s a damn good one.

Along with exploring what has contributed to the image of an adversarial loud mouth, the documentary keeps coming back to the work. Each time we get an snippet or expert of something Ellison wrote, like a classic work from “Star Trek” or “The Outer Limits,” we are given reason to want to learn more about the man. And the footage of him speaking with students back in the ’60s about social justice and global warming is insightful. There are hints too as to why Ellison may not have fully secured his place among writers. Some speculate that his personality has gotten in the way. Others worry that, along with his massive number of short stories and longer works, he should have written at least one big sweeping novel.

Any writer that has reached a point of looking back on a body of work is concerned about posterity and so is Harlan Ellison. This documentary goes a long way in clearing the air. Luckily, the DVD also has special features that round things out even further. We have a short movie that lets us see first hand Ellison interacting with an audience that has just seen the documentary and we see a lot of love and there’s another short movie with Ellison and Neil Gaiman. It turns out, these guys go way back to when Gaiman was a journalist and aspiring comics writer. Ellison looks over Gaiman and jokingly says, “You know, there’s something just a little creepy about a guy your age dressing like he’s still in his twenties.” Gaiman gives out a sigh, “I know.”

But the best extra feature is a collection of short movies that has Ellison reading from his work. I will close out with some brief observations about each:

The Glass Teat: This sounds great as a spoken word performance and offers insights similar to Marshall McLuhan, if he was really really angry.

Prince Myshkin, And Hold The Relish: What a delightful mixture of found art and literary criticism. Who knew you could find so many insights into Doestoyevsky and the human condition in the middle of the night at a hot dog stand?

All The Lies That Are My Life: What do you call writers who happen to write science fiction? “Sci Fi writer”? “Fantasy writer”? How about just say, “writer”?

The Silence: From a book of stories to accompany the art of Jacek Yerka. “Your spirit will kneel on the broken glass at the pews.”

The Resurgence Of Miss Ankle-strap Wedgie: A look at old Hollywood being gobbled up by new Hollywood.

The Prowler In The City At The Edge Of The World: A very bloody Jack The Ripper tale to accompany a similar short story by Robert Bloch, writer of “Psycho.” This one is a fine way to end Harlan Ellison’s performance art and leaves you, of course, wanting more.

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Filed under fantasy, Harlan Ellison, Outer Limits, science fiction, Star Trek, writers, writing