Category Archives: mystery

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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Interview: Jerome Charyn, Crime Fiction, and the American Presidency

Photo of Jerome Charyn by Klaus Schoenwiese

Jerome Charyn concludes his Isaac Sidel mystery series with the recently published “Winter Warning.” In this interview, we begin with discussing the crime fiction genre and quickly gravitate to the strange resemblance between Charyn’s President Sidel and our current American president. Both men are prone to go it alone in the extreme. Mr. Charyn has some choice words to share on his view of the current political landscape as well as the art that can emerge from troubled times

Henry Chamberlain: Would you share with us your thoughts on the American roots to crime fiction and how it was perhaps inevitable for you to make your own contribution to this genre?

Jerome Charyn: I’ve always felt that all novels are crime novels and I just didn’t realize it. Of course, my brother was a homicide detective. And, once I’d read Dashiell Hammett, after having read Hemingway and Faulkner, I began to feel that Hammett had invented a new kind of language: a poetry of crime. To some degree, Hemingway also wrote crime stories. There’s one called “Fifty Grand.” I was overwhelmed by Hammett and not so much by Chandler. Chandler was recognizable in terms of his literary qualities. But Hammett was a true original. We had never had another writer like him, an actual Pinkerton, who described what it was like in that world, and the craziness of that world really mirrors the craziness of the world we’re living in now.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this series, “Berlin Station.”

No, I haven’t.

You should. It’s excellent. It’s about a CIA station in Berlin. And it has the same kind of madness that you would find in my own fiction. So I was very happy to watch it. I think after the discovery of Hammett, and particularly his novel, “Red Harvest,” I felt that this was a world that I had to enter as fast as I could. Also, I had read Ross McDonald but after a while, his novels became repetitive whereas it was Hammett who had invented a new kind of language for the 20th century. And, it seems to me, he has never received the recognition he deserves.

Jerome Charyn, a kid from the Bronx.

You have a terrific hook in “Winter Warning” with a renegade president. What some readers may not be aware of is that you had already laid down the groundwork for Sidel’s political rise to power in the two previous Sidel novels, “Citizen Sidel” and “Under the Eye of God.” With the latest novel, “Winter Warning,” you have Sidel as an accidental president. And you find yourself with the added bonus of the current president.

I wrote this before the election of Trump and, like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate that Trump would win.

Is it a bonus or is it more of a distraction in a way?

It’s certainly not a distraction as much as a mirror, a crazy funhouse mirror of what is actually going on in the world today. There are many resemblances between Trump and Sidel. Republicans and Democrats hate them both. They both have to maneuver on their own. They both have a kind of poetry. Isaac is tenuous. And Trump is not. There are certain similarities: the sense of the maverick, the person who goes his own way.

I imagine you followed current political trends while tapping into timeless qualities of the contemporary American presidency.

I was particularly fascinated with the presidency after writing a novel about Lincoln. And I also wrote a novel about Teddy Roosevelt just as he’s about to become an accidental president after McKinley dies. So, it was very much on my mind as to how the office shapes the man and the man shapes the office—because, in some way, the American presidency will never be the same after Trump. Never. It can never go back to what it was.

The Commander-in-Tweet

It is a very sobering thought. The pieces on the geopolitical chessboard are being jostled with by Trump. With Obama, we had a good role model. With Trump, I think, we have some sort of throwback.

It’s not simply that he’s a throwback. We never realized before the powers that the president had. With the separation of powers, with the Supreme Court, with the Congress, there seemed to be some limits on his powers. But there are no limits. He does what he wants, when he wants, as he wants. He says what he wants. He retrieves what he says. He denies what he says.

And, also, we’ve never had a president who tweets. I mean, it is a kind of crazy poetry. One has to give him that particular credit. He stays up in the middle of the night and tweets his platform. We’ve never seen this. We don’t know how to deal with it. And, obviously, the Democrats, who should have won the election, are completely bewildered—and didn’t know what to do with him. And we still don’t know what to do with him.

I think there is a strange resemblance between “Winter Warning” and the current situation. As I said, I didn’t write it with Trump in mind.

East and West Berliners tear down a portion of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.

It’s interesting how the timeline for the Sidel series puts us in 1989, or an alternate 1989, I should say. In some ways, that was a more quiet time but the world is always changing and we are right on the cusp of the implosion of the Soviet Union.

Yes, as the so-called Soviet Union implodes, separates into separate nations; it is the end of the Cold War but it’s the beginning of a different kind of war. To some degree the secret agents that were in place, on both sides, remained in place even after the end of the Soviet Union, the coming down of the Berlin Wall, and so on. It’s very difficult to determine what is real and what is not real these days as we have a constant variation on the truth, or a constant multiplication of the truth. The truthful lie. I don’t know how else to describe it. Sidel isn’t like that. He’s a very moral person. But, remember, he’s killed his way to the top. He would never have gotten to where he is without his Glock.

I look at “Winter Warning” as a political thriller and a thinking person’s world-weary journey so, in that sense, Trump seems to me to be a distraction. He’s not in the equation to this novel and yet there is an undeniable connection.

He isn’t in the equation except that he is also a kind of accidental president. And Sidel has to go his own way because he’s so isolated in the White House. I particularly like the two trips he makes – to Prague and to Riker’s Island, where he tries to settle a war between the inmates and the guards. New York is still very much in the narrative frame. And everyone around him seems to want to kill him! (laughs)

“I Am Abraham” by Jerome Charyn

There are some presidents who will always lend themselves well to fiction. Lincoln stands out.

Lincoln is quite fascinating. I did a great deal of research on him for my novel. He really grew in the office. He had the prejudices of his own time. The presidency made him great and he made the presidency great. It was a strange evolution. When he talks about the better angels of our nature, there’s real poetry in what he wanted to say. He was our resident poet in the White House. I was hoping that Obama would be the same kind of poet but, in the end, he wasn’t. His speeches didn’t hold up in the same way. We don’t have a Gettysburg Address, which is overwhelming. It’s a kind of tone poem. Everyone was expecting Lincoln to give an hour speech and he spoke for four or five minutes.

Lincoln haunts Isaac Sidel’s White House because, of course, he haunts my own head. We will never see another man like him. I don’t think so. Teddy Roosevelt, in his own way, did a lot of great things but he wasn’t anywhere as poignant as Lincoln.

Of course, I wanted Isaac to be poignant. On the other hand, after completing forty years of work, I didn’t want to have a musical climax or crescendo. It’s just the end. His life can go on. It was the end of a jagged symphony. It was the last twisted movement.

I didn’t want to sum things up. But, on the other hand, I wanted him to end as a sitting president, to go all the way up the American ladder of success. He went from a deputy chief inspector to chief inspector to first deputy commissioner to police commissioner to mayor to vice president, although he never served as vice president. I did think of having him in that job (vice president) but it would have seemed a bit artificial to me. I wanted him to dig right into the dirt.

“Hard Apple” concept art by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka

Without having to give anything away, will the upcoming animated series, “Hard Apple,” based upon the Sidel books, (art by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka) be able to cover all the books?

Well, we will start with “Blue Eyes.” It takes several months to do one episode of animation. I would like it to follow Isaac Sidel’s career. I wouldn’t work on all the books but perhaps six or seven and have Sidel end up all alone in the White House.

Trump on North Korea

Do you think that Trump will make as satisfying a fictional villain as, say, Nixon? Or will people have soured so much on Trump that it will somehow not work?

One never knows. We’re living in such a strange time that I wouldn’t even want to make any kind of prediction. It would be very interesting to write about him just as a phenomenon because that’s all that one can say. He’s a kind of hurricane passing through the entire world. And we don’t know quite what to do. We don’t know how to be prepared for it. And yet, there he is.

If one were to deal with him fictionally, well, you must have seen Saturday Night Live. That’s probably the best fictional representation of him, with Alec Baldwin. I don’t think you can get any better than that. So maybe humor and parody are the way to deal with Trump. Anyway, the relationship between fiction and reality is so tenuous that one can’t anticipate what future writers will do in terms of Trump or how he will be treated.

For example, when we used to think about World War II, we had certain novels like “The Naked and the Dead” and “From Here to Eternity” and then suddenly in the Sixties, we had “Catch-22,” which was a completely different take on the war and the madness of war. It took a long time to re-envision what the nature of war was like.

We would never have thought of war in that particular way. And when Heller tried to do a a sequel, it didn’t really work. The original was too much a product of its own time. In other words, it was the Vietnam War superimposed upon World War II and that’s what made it so interesting.

I think it will take a very long time before we can fictionalize the world as it is unfolding today.

Trump on Distorting Democracy

For someone who seems so unintellectual, Trump does play the most devious mind games. There is his strategy of lying where he flips the lie and makes the accuser appear to be the liar—it’s a Russian technique.

He’s very shrewd in his own way. While Hillary was preparing for her victory at the Javits Center, he was out campaigning on the very last night. He was a man who stood there alone. Whether he believed he was going to win or not, we have no way of knowing. It’s not that easy to figure him out. Certainly, I think the tweets are brilliant. And when he uses the term, “Rocket Man,” for example, he does have a kind of poetry.

You were part of the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest in 1968 protesting against the Vietnam War. Do you think that today’s protests get the same kind of attention?

Well, it wasn’t exactly the way it sounds. What I did was help to educate people. I went door to door in California. I wasn’t trying to convince anyone about how they should feel about the war but just provide them with some history.

That is why I’m a little disappointed with the new Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam because it was a more complicated matter, with opposition coming from within the government, but those details got glossed over.

Johnson himself knew that we could never win the war. And we lost the war the first time American soldiers appeared on the ground. It was a very sad epic. And when you think of what we were able to do in World War II and how we rebuilt Europe. We brought these countries back into the world. So, it was a very different kind of strategy, the way Americans used power. And now, I haven’t got the slightest idea. For example, I wouldn’t be able to write about the current situation. But I did write a novel about the Vietnam War and felt comfortable doing it.

There are two films about the current situation, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that really capture the craziness in the world. You have these young American soldiers, who haven’t traveled much, and then find themselves in a world where they can’t read the signs or the signals.

What I found most interesting about Vietnam was the lingo that Americans produced. The way that they combined colloquial French and a sort of Broadway slang, to create a whole new language for Vietnam was extraordinary. But the war itself was never winnable, no matter what we did.

Franklin D. Roosevelt fishes with Winston Churchill at the presidential retreat Shangri-La (later called Camp David) outside Washington in May 1943.

All of the characters in “Winter Warning” are colorful and interesting. One that stands out for me is Ariel Moss, the former prime minister of Israel. As a kid, I remember paying attention to the Camp David Peace Accords so I know that Moss is inspired by Menachem Begin.

I didn’t want to use the name. I wanted to invent a Begin-like character and evoke the sadness he went through after his wife died. Then there’s Camp David. And I had fun researching the presidential helicopter service, Marine One. I knew that Camp David and Marine One were going to create the thrust for the novel. I read whatever I could about Marine One and the squad of pilots and how each president leaves his own stamp on Camp David.

Franklin Roosevelt first used Camp David as a retreat. Lincoln had his own summer retreat. He’d go to the Old Soldiers’ Home and then ride back to the White House. After writing about Lincoln embodying that world, it was a little bit easier for me to see Sidel in that same house in Lincoln’s shadow. There’s also the way Truman described the White House as the “little white jail.” All of those takes are interesting.

“War Cries Over Avenue C” by Jerome Charyn

Could you name any of the French and Broadway combinations of lingo that emerged from Vietnam?

I wrote a novel called, “War Cries Over Avenue C.” For instance, for “city,” they would use the word, “ville.” I would have to go back and look at the novel. Once I’m out of a world, it’s not easy to go back. It is lingo like you see coming out from this war. You have that in “The Hurt Locker,” just think of the terms themselves. “Black Sites.” “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Like I said, I think “Berlin Station” is very powerful. I think some of the best writing is being done in episodic television. The movies now are for twelve-year-olds. But, in terms of HBO, Amazon, and Netflix, we’re getting exciting options. Think back to “The Wire.” Did you ever see that?

HBO’s “The Wire”

I have yet to see it.

You should. “The Wire” is one of the very best. There are others. “Deadwood” is another one. A lot coming out of the BBC, like “The Singing Detective.” That was probably one of the most creative things I’ve seen on television. It’s the writer-producer who creates the show. In that sense, you can have some very good things as well as bad.

New editions of Sidel books in Germany.

As I wrap up, I just want to say that I enjoyed “Winter Warning” very much and I am going back to read the other books. I am currently enjoying “Marilyn The Wild.”

The series, at the beginning, was very different. It evolved as I evolved as a writer. You never think that you’ll finish all twelve. I consider them three quartets. The only reason I was able to complete the Sidel books is because my editor/publisher at Liveright, Bob Weil, spent a long time on each draft. I’d be working on the Sidel books while he was working on Lincoln, or the book on Emily Dickinson. I had a strange surreal time between novels, trying to keep the distinct voices inside my head.

What I like best about the Sidel books is that you can read any title without knowing anything about the others. It will enrich the experience if you do read the others but each stands alone.

In Germany, they have been republishing each of the Sidel books with a photo of me on the cover that coincides with the time I wrote each book. It’s an interesting idea.

The main thing is that you want to keep working as a writer. I feel that we’re living in a time that is hostile to the writer. You have to have an inner resource to sustain yourself. Writing was something I always wanted to do from the time I finished high school. I never thought in terms of failure or success. I just thought in terms of how to sustain myself. I was very lucky, as my generation was the first that welcomed creative writers to teach at the universities. It had never been the case before. And then I stopped teaching and moved to Paris. And soon I began to teach there. I started a film department at the American University in Paris. As with anything, you also need a tremendous amount of luck.

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

Yes, luck and will power.

Well, you can have all the will power in the world but if you don’t have any kind of luck, then you defeat yourself. You need some kind of acknowledgement. The books I’ve written are there for people to read. Some of them may survive and some of them may not. One never knows.

Also, the graphic novels that I wrote are very important to me. I was the first American novelist in Europe to work with a French artist and then other French writers began doing it too. I grew up with comics, as you already know. We’ve talked about it.

You have so many portals that one can slip into. You have so many outlets for people to discover your work.

Well, if they take the time. The problem is you don’t have as much time to read anymore. Everything moves so quickly, but if you can take the time to read then you can take the time to discover.

When I went to college, reading was the central occupation of what we did as students. You didn’t do anything but read books. You were much better equipped to deal with the outside world having had these dialogues with writers, with having had Plato inside your head.

Today it’s more of a juggling act. A student’s attention is divided between reading and engaging with social media.

It is in social media where people do their discovering. And, going back to Trump, it’s with his tweets where he’s so brilliant. Maybe you need a child-like manner to do it. I don’t really know. But he has a sort of brilliance with his tweets that very few people have. (laughs)

It’s a very different world. And it has evolved very quickly. What place there will be for books, I don’t know. I don’t feel very optimistic about the future of books.

The art of rediscovering books: “Call It Sleep” by Henry Roth

I feel there are a lot of dedicated readers. My daughter, at 21, prefers to read in print. I like both print and digital equally. There’s a healthy community of readers out there.

It’s not a question of a lack of readers. It’s about the lack of venues for these readers. For example, it’s so much more expensive to put out a print book. When I first started writing, if a publisher liked your work, he knew that you’d have a library sale of between 1,500 to 2000 copies so that you could easily sell four or five thousand copies. That would be enough to do a second book and a third book.

But now the library sales have disappeared; the book clubs have disappeared; and the paperback houses have disappeared so the avenues for income are not there. The only avenue you have left is the translation of a book into a film—and that may be more prominent that it was before. Or a television series. One or the other. And that may be what rescues fiction.

As long as I still get pleasure from books, I will write them. There are fewer book reviews, fewer publishing outlets, so it’s hard to reach the reader.

I think people are reading as much as ever but what they’re reading, I don’t know. Also, someone has to make predictions based upon book reviews. If you look back at the last fifty to sixty years, most of those predictions have been wrong.

What seems to be wonderful isn’t so wonderful. I’m not talking about myself. I am talking about how books can come out of obscurity. For example, “Call it Sleep,” by Henry Roth. It was published in the ‘30s and disappeared. Then it was republished in the ‘60s and it was a phenomenal hit. These things do happen but they happen much less frequently.

That’s the same case with “The Great Gatsby.”

That’s absolutely true. Fitzgerald died at a very early age. He was only 44. He was completely forgotten. It was only because of Edmund Wilson’s essays in The New Yorker that he was revived as a writer. In his own lifetime, Fitzgerald had disappeared into the void, his fame all eaten up.

It’s odd which writers are recycled, which writers come back to haunt us, and which writers speak to us in our own generation.

Thank you, Jerome.

Thank you, Henry

You can listen to the podcast conversation by clicking below:

“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn

“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books. Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here.

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Book Review: ‘Winter Warning’ by Jerome Charyn

Isaac Sidel, the president with a Glock. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Writers reach a point in their careers when they can spin gold from within just about any scenario. Jerome Charyn gives himself the perfect backdrop from which to play in his latest novel, “Winter Warning,” published by Pegasus Books. This is the White House. And, if you think Donald Trump is “disruptive,” then get a load of the Isaac Sidel administration: people get punched in the face and guns are fired into the ceiling on a slow day. Charyn makes the most of his opportunity to craft a climactic conclusion to his iconic Isaac Sidel mystery series. And, in the bargain, Charyn revels in speaking to the byzantine interconnections between American and Russian players.

Isaac Sidel, has gone from street cop to police commissioner, to mayor of New York City, to president of the United States. The timeline to the Charyn mystery series places the story in 1989 but, without a doubt, the narrative is every bit as relevant as if it were set in the present. Sidel is indeed a disruptive force. He is, by and large, an accidental president, a vice-presidnet thrust into the highest office after a political scandal. And Sidel is quite outspoken, beholden to neither major party. Where Trump leans to the right, Sidel leans to the left. Side’s liberal inclinations have more to do with a passion to help the oppressed than anything else. Given the chance as mayor, he released countless prisoners from Riker’s Island, victims of an unjust legal system. Our story heats up when Sidel’s more aggressive style attracts various rogue elements, including nefarious Swiss bankers and an erratic former Israeli prime minister.

“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn is always a pleasure to read as you cannot help but get wrapped up in the story and find yourself rewarded at every turn. Here is a taste of a story with hints of the supernatural. In this excerpt, Sidel is questioning Pesh Olinov, a Russian operative, about a Russian criminal syndicate determined to make contact with him:

“And that greeting card is some kind of a threat?”

Olinov appraised the portrait of Isaac with an ice pick piercing his left eye.

“I don’t think so. They consider you a werewolf, like themselves. And that’s a mark of respect. Perhaps they would like to meet with you—the presidency means nothing to them. It’s not your power that interests the besprizornye. In their eyes you have none. Perhaps it is a real winter warning, and they are telling you to be more careful with your steps. The Secret Service cannot protect you with their magnetometers, my friend.”

Isaac Sidel is the president who packs a Glock. As much gritty crime story as political fable, “Winter Warning” takes the reader on a mesmerizing journey. This is the story of an American president who prefers to hide in an office he’s set up in the White House attic. That attic becomes home to a makeshift kitchen cabinet and a haven for various rogue elements. But Sidel, as always, is also a man of action. Charyn keeps this president on the run.

Charyn has a delicious way of hinting at what lies ahead and then, like a panther, hits his mark and pounces on his prey. The pace to this narrative is quick and steady allowing Charyn to conjure up elaborate scenes, deliver on his promise, and quickly sneak out the backway. Charyn is a master at creating a rhythmic pattern. We return throughout to an image of a man with a Glock, a man confronting werewolves, and the realization that he is a werewolf himself. This is not a horror story with werewolf tropes. These werewolves symbolize a certain dark and independent spirit. Sidel is indeed a werewolf. He knew it all along. He just needed an opportunity to prove it to others and confirm it to himself. With a target on his back, and nearly no one to trust, Sidel will need strength from any source he can find. This is a riveting mystery with a hard-boiled edge and worldly charm.

“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Jerome Charyn, mystery, Novels, Pegasus Books

Review: THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

Everything is always perfectly distilled in a work of comics by Richard Sala. Everything from a dramatically constricted pupil to a young woman’s dainty feet. Sala has a way of cutting to the chase: he knows that he wants thrilling motifs and pretty girls–and he does a beautiful job of it. Sala is in fine form with his latest graphic novel, “The Bloody Cardinal,” published by Fantagraphics.

This new Sala villain makes quite an entrance and certainly looks pretty menacing. The Bloody Cardinal is no slouch, either, when it comes to murder. Clara Clarette, a charming young woman who had just purchased a mysterious book, is killed by the bird fiend. Enter Inspector Coronet, and his trusty compatriot, Dr. Sun. The good doctor has a mystical quality about him. He senses a malevolent bird-like creature is responsible for this crime. Sala does not miss a beat and paves the way for the reader to be undeniably hooked.

If you’re new to Sala, you are definitely in for a treat, especially if you enjoy a devilishly good mystery. At its heart, this is a good tightly-wound mystery. The narrative keeps popping along at a brisk pace. Each panel is a wonderfully rendered watercolor. Some cartoonists, like Sala, also happen to be painters at an accomplished level. You can’t help but appreciate how Sala distills scenes and characters to their essence.

The evil eye.

“The Bloody Cardinal” is an online serial, which follows in the tradition of his early classics, “The Chuckling Whatsit” and “Mad Night.” Perhaps it was one of these previous titles that was your introduction to his work. Sala has enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years with no signs of letting up. He has perfected a vision that, inspired by Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams, he can safely call his own.

There is an undeniably sexy aspect to Sala’s work, as evidenced by all the compelling and voluptuous female characters in this book. The key distinction is that these are sexy, but not sexist, depictions in the service of a bigger picture. You get a worldly sense of the world from Sala: a world of books, mystery, the supernatural, and compelling young women to keep one on one’s toes. It is sophisticated fare accessible to general readers much in the same way that Hitchcock provided that special kind of entertainment in film. You could indeed say that Richard Sala is to comics what Alfred Hitchcock is to film. All those little details add up: apprehensive rats, a demonic puppet hung from a string, obsessive note-taking. The journey we take with Hitchcock as well as with Sala, with its Mcguffins and moody atmosphere, is as important as the destination, even more so.

A harbinger of doom.

In an interview last year with Tim Hodler, for The Comics Journal, Sala provides a window into the motivation behind his work: “What has always appealed to me over everything else, beyond horror or comedy or whatever, is a sense of the absurd. I think I got that from reading Kafka in high school and feeling a shock of recognition. I felt a kinship with absurd humor and black humor. Having an appreciation of the absurd – along with my childhood love of monsters – helped me survive in what was a dysfunctional (that is, crazy) household. I was drawn to the surreal and the expressionistic and the unreal, which is where I felt at home.”

“The Bloody Cardinal” is a 96-page full color trade paperback. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: anyone, say, 13 and up. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Richard Sala, Supernatural

Review: THE NEW DEAL by Jonathan Case

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We begin Jonathan Case’s new graphic novel, “The New Deal,” in New York City, 1936. It’s the depths of the Great Depression. NYC is pretty darn cold in the winter, especially when money is so scarce. There’s a young guy, Frank O’Malley, and he’s pleading with passersby to consider buying a ticket to an avant-garde production of Macbeth. Tough sale especially when, just next to Frank is his Uncle Pack hawking apples for six cents each. A potential customer tries to haggle the price down by a penny but Uncle Pack won’t budge. Quickly, we move on as Frank races to his regular job as a bellman at the Waldorf Astoria. And with that Case has hooked you in as the plot thickens and we find Frank to be way over his head.

Pages from THE NEW DEAL

Pages from THE NEW DEAL

Case delivers a solid story built upon his character-driven script and his engaging drawing style. His sly sense of humor and intrigue works its way through every page. He has managed to create characters that feel real while inhabiting the hyperreal world of screwball comedies of the 1930s. We cannot help but be curious about the relationship between a Caucasian bellman, Frank O’Malley, and an African-American maid, Theresa Harris. In public, they keep at a distance and address each other by their surnames. In private, they are playful with each other but still hold back. What we do know is that they care about each other very much and the plot that unfolds will test them.

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This is an exceptionally well-paced and substantial story. It has one foot in the ’30s and the other in today’s sensibilities. This allows us to explore the relationship between Frank and Theresa and the inner world of Theresa with great subtlety. You learn to accept Frank who has to struggle with proving his trustworthiness. And you follow Theresa as she must navigate through the obstacles before her. The more complicated our story gets, the more Frank and Theresa are forced to face what it is that keeps attracting them to each other.

Make no mistake, this is a perfect blend of mystery, humor, and offbeat love story. If there’s any mention of FDR’s “New Deal,” it is only in passing. This is not a history lesson, at least not directly. That said, while you’ll learn a thing or two about swells and dolls and fancy hotels, you will also get a good sense of the cold realities of that era.

This is Jonathan Case’s best work yet. You may know him from his artwork for the critically-acclaimed graphic novel, “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story,” which I reviewed here. Or you may have caught his work for the DC Comics title, “Batman ’66.” You will definitely want to read “The New Deal,” a thoroughly entertaining and remarkable work.

THE NEW DEAL is a hardcover, published by Dark Horse Comics, available as of September 23. You can find it at all your favorite booksellers including through Jonathan’s website right here. As always, be sure to visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hotels, Humor, Jonathan Case, mystery

Review: THE BOZZ CHRONICLES

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THE BOZZ CHRONICLES is going to appeal to those who love an offbeat story with an ooey-gooey weirdness rolled into a droll misadventure. Does that sound like you? More cheezburger, perhaps? Yes, you. And you’ll dig the vintage quasi-steampunk vibe too. We have been enjoying a comics reprint renaissance in recent years. And Dover Publications is doing its part by bringing back ole Bozz which was originally a six-issue series published by Epic Comics from December 1985 to December 1986. Set in Victorian era England, we follow a space alien as he solves crimes with the help of prostitute Amanda Flynn and American Salem Hawkshaw.

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Written by David Michelinie (The Amazing Spider-Man) and drawn by Bret Blevins (New Mutants), this is a comic ready to regain the spotlight. The one thing I can’t help but focus on is how effortlessly quirky this comic is. And, of course, it’s steampunk before there ever was steampunk. It takes its cues from a long tradition of bawdy and oddball British humor going all the way back to Chaucer, and you thought I was going to say, Alan Moore. Funny, but there is a Moore connection. There usually is one if you dig far enough. Mr. Michelinie wrote for “Swamp Thing” before and after Alan Moore. Pretty cool, huh?

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“The Bozz Chronicles” is one of those eccentric comics that goes all out and then sadly comes to an end, like a dazzling magic act. Not every weird and wonderful comic needs to become a perpetual series or franchise. Some of the best just do their unique bit of magic and that’s more than enough. That’s comics at its elusive and ephemeral best.

And if you like this reprint gem, you’ll dig other Dover titles like “A Sailor’s Story” by Sam Glanzman, originally published by Marvel Comics in two volumes in 1987 and 1988. “The Bozz Chronicles” is a 208-page trade paperback and will be available as of September 16, 2015. For more details on Dover graphic novels, visit our friends at Dover Publications right here. You can also find “The Bozz Chronicles” at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Dover Publications, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Steampunk

Review: LOUISE BROOKS: DETECTIVE by Rick Geary

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A really good murder mystery is always about more than just the murder. There’s tantalizing intrigue but it also transcends searching for clues and skulking about. How about one that features one of Hollywood’s most alluring beauties, Louise Brooks, as a gumshoe detective in Wichita, Kansas? She was never really a detective, was she? And in Kansas? That’s what cartoonist Rick Geary has conjured up with his latest graphic novel, “Louise Brooks: Detective.” And this one is quite a story. It makes you believe that Louise Brooks actually did go all Sherlock Holmes.

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Any good mystery will depend upon a fair amount of trickery and distraction. Just when you think all roads are leading to a resolution, something happens to tell you different. Murder, I tell you! It was bloody murder! And in Wichita! Enter Louise Brooks, stage left, if she still had a stage from which to veer left from. These days, she has dropped down a number of pegs. It’s 1940, she’s no longer the star she once was and, at age 33, she has had to come back home to reinvent herself. There was nothing about solving crime in her plans. So, she is literally forced into something way over her head. Initially, she had just hoped to make a go of it as a dance instructor!

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Geary has a wonderful time with bringing Miss Brooks to life. He allows her to live and breathe, starting with a little pout or smirk. She is a big city girl, after all. Who knew she would ever return to Kansas? She is not pleased. But, as she comes to terms with her circumstances, we see her grow. With regularity, Geary will bring her to an extreme close-up and we deal with her directly: read her thoughts, hear her rant, and so on. There’s an interesting thing he does here as he consistently favors going for these close-ups on the last panel of a page on the right side. This is for added emphasis, the last thing you read, before you move on to something else.

This Louise Brooks adventure is supposed to just be a little detour from Mr. Geary’s ongoing work on his Treasury of Murder true crime series. However, there’s definitely a case to be made for more Louise Brooks adventures. He’s found a way where that could happen. So, stay tuned.

“Louise Brooks: Detective” is an 80-page hardcover and is available now. You can find out more by visiting our friends at NBM Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hollywood, Louise Brooks, movies, mystery, Rick Geary

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review: ALL MY GHOSTS by Jeremy Massie

All-My-Ghosts-Massie-Alterna-Comics

For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, History, Journalism, mystery, Newspapers

Review: THE BLACK FEATHER FALLS Book One (of four), by Ellen Lindner, published by Soaring Penguin Press

Ellen-Lindner-The-Black-Feather-Falls

Ellen Lindner has a wonderful way with prose and composition. Her intricate artwork and distinctive voice give life to her latest creation, “The Black Feather Falls.” This is a webcomic told in four parts, which you can view at ACT-I-VATE here. The first part is now collected and will be published by Soaring Penguin Press.

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The beauty of Lindner’s work is on many levels, not the least of which is her dynamic composition. We begin with the main character, Tina Swift, juxtaposed by her striking view of two pyramids that act as visual and symbolic thrust. They lead us to more energetic play with geometry of body language and setting.

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Take a closer look at Tina Swift. On Page 2, we see her face is a crisp collection of lines and angles with a few accenting curves. We take in the rest of the page: in the first panel, we see a typewriter rendered to the last detail acting as a still life accompanied by Tina’s sharply rendered hands. The last panel caps off with another view of those pyramids. In the span of time that we’ve read the first two pages, we already know a mighty adventure is about to be retold.

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And, by Page 3, we have entered a new world. Tina is an American abroad. She’s in 1920s London. As engaging as Lindner’s artwork, her prose charms you and immerses you in the customs and logic of another time. Lindner was an American abroad herself and you sense a loving attention to her past home byway of this murder mystery. It’s as if Lindner travelled back in time and is reporting to us her observations with a fresh vitality. She provides a somewhat similar treatment of Brooklyn in the early 1960s for her work, “Undertow.” The writing for this story is quite fun and feels in step with such British writers of the time as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the Mitford sisters.

Our team of brash young American, Tina Swift, and young British spinster, Miss McInteer, are delightful as polar opposites that manage to attract. They do have quite a compelling murder mystery to solve that apparently will turn into another cold case if not for them. All the elements are in place for a delicious read.

You can read the latest installments of The Black Feather Falls at ACT-I-VATE here. Be sure to pick up the first collection of The Black Feather Falls from Soaring Penguin Press and look for updates here. And do visit Ellen Lindner at her site here.

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Filed under ACT-I-VATE, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dean Haspiel, Ellen Lindner, mystery, Webcomics