Category Archives: Noir

Book Review: ‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936’ by Edward Sorel

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

If you are a fan of glamorous old Hollywood, then I have a book for you. It is a racy and juicy tale told by a masterful storyteller. I’ve always admired Edward Sorel‘s artwork with its caricatures that seem to pierce into his subject’s soul. Edward Sorel has written, and illustrated, a fresh look at Hollywood legend Mary Astor and interlaced her story with his own in “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W.W. Norton & Company. This is mainly a prose book but it is generously filled with Sorel’s illustrations, over sixty original paintings. The prose is as elegant, urbane, and idiosyncratic as his art.

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930's "Ladies Love Brutes."

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930’s “Ladies Love Brutes.”

As a writer and cartoonist, I am here to tell you that it is the idiosyncratic person who gets a project like this about the elusive Mary Astor off the ground. That is what sets Edward Sorel apart and makes his work so distinctive. Sorel confides in the reader every step of the way. It was 1965 that Sorel first embarked upon his quest. It all began with lifting old rotting kitchen linoleum from his railroad apartment. Buried at the bottom were newspapers from 1936. The big story was the custody trial of Hollywood star Mary Astor, which included her infamous “purple diary.”

Edward meets Mary!

Edward meets Mary!

Sorel runs out of old newspapers before he can find out the end of the story. But he’s hooked. He vows to investigate further. The end result is this book, which moves at a steady clip as it transports us from Mary’s humble origins on the outskirts of Quincy, Illinois, raised by domineering parents, to Hollywood in the 1920s, Mary a rising child star, still saddled with domineering parents. Poor Mary never seems to figure out how to stand up for herself when it comes to finding a mate either. At one point, Mary turns down a contract with RKO strictly for starring roles. Then she follows that up with a hasty marriage. Sorel shakes his head and raises his fists on the page and the reader can’t help but do the same. Mary’s choices will continue to be bad before they get better. Mary’s ultimate bad choice will entangle none other than the most celebrated man on Broadway, George S. Kaufman.

Edward finds Nancy!

Edward finds Nancy!

Life, in all its glorious absurdity and majesty, is on parade in Sorel’s book. With a combination of the whimsical and the world-weary, Sorel weaves a tale that includes a supernatural meeting between Sorel and Mary from beyond the grave. And, the high point for me, Sorel shares with us how he met Nancy, the love of his life. Throughout, what emerges is the story of the artist’s struggle, both of Edward Sorel and Mary Astor. Both could have used another pat on the back and moral support. Both certainly earned it.

While Mary Astor would be the last to claim to be anyone’s role model, she proved to be more than capable to rise to the occasion. That is clear to see for all time in her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Sorel’s book provides his unique and quirky take on Astor’s life and helps us to better appreciate how she blossomed at pivotal times in her life. If you are looking for a definitive tell-all, this is not that kind of book. This is more of an expanded essay, an intelligent conversation. You can be new to the facts discussed or you can be quite familiar with them already. I dare say, it is just the sort of book, with its dry wit and cosmopolitan flavor, that Mary Astor would approve of.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Books, Edward Sorel, Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, Illustration, Mary Astor, Noir, Old Hollywood, Silent Movies, W. W. Norton & Company

Review: DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE is a new crime noir comic book series, written by John Arcudi; art by Toni Fejzula; colors by Andre May; published by Dark Horse Comics. The main character is Linda, a deputy who has recently been promoted to detective. Linda is a hard case all to her own: does not play well with others, whether professionally or personally. Between the talents of Arcudi and Feizula, they have created a tough character, all sad and lonely, you know, dead inside. Funny thing about death, it comes in many colors. The first thing to really bring Linda to life in years is all about death: a really twisted murder-suicide committed by a most unlikely character.

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Detective Linda Caruso can’t let go of the fact that the murderer, so small and slight in stature, would have been able to bring down a bear of a man. This was supposedly an easy enough crime to solve as it took place inside a prison, a minimum security prison at that. This is the first case for Linda at the Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County. Nothing unusual is supposed to happen there. Except Linda now finds herself confronting a crime that becomes more bizarre the more she investigates.

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

This is a series that will have special appeal for fans of crime and prison television, such as Law & Order, NCIS, Orange Is the New Black, American Crime Story, or Making a Murderer. This is a new series from Rumble writer John Arcudi and Veil artist Toni Fejzula. DEAD INSIDE all adds up to a great study in character and a compelling murder mystery full of gritty style. This resonates with the reader. An intriguing case. And an intriguing detective. Who could ask for more?

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1 is available as of December 21st. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime, Crime Fiction, Dark Horse Comics, John Arcudi, Noir

Review: MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1 by Howard Chaykin

Howard Chaykin

It’s always good to read a comic by Howard Chaykin. I can tell that Mr. Chaykin is having a grand time writing and drawing his latest comic, “Midnight of the Soul.” It wasn’t very long ago that I was marveling over another of his works, “Satellite Sam,” also published by Image Comics. As long as there are good comics being made, I’ll be writing about them. And this one inspires my own creating of comics. I admire many things here. Chaykin has a naturalness about him. He has an enthusiasm to share with you as much as possible.

Howard Chaykin wants nothing less than to drench you in the era his story is set in, wants you to appreciate that people ate, slept, shit, fucked, yelled, cried, murdered in this time he’s taking you to. And maybe they did things a little differently back then from the way things are done today by a new generation. A little more blunt and raw, not so pretty. But, one thing is for sure, they lived!

The time for this story is 1950, five years after World War II. The boys, now men, must find their way. For many, the war had never left them. It certainly messed up one Joel Breakstone, former GI and liberator of Auschwitz. Joel thought he might find the answers as a writer. But, too much booze and little discipline have soured his pipe dreams. Maybe he was never cut out to be a writer. Patricia, his girlfriend, tries to get him to wake up. All around him, everything is falling apart, including his relationship with Patricia, including Patricia herself!

Chaykin Midnight Image Comics

Few cartoonists embrace the old school tradition as well as Chaykin: both writing and drawing his work consistently over decades in his distinctive style. To do that, and do it so well, that makes you a legend. But what makes you someone to remember is real passion. Chaykin has such a crisp style, its stark beauty creates a certain distance between the reader and his characters. It is sort of like he doesn’t want you to get too close to these people he creates. Mostly, these are not very nice people to begin with. There’s a very intriguing dark world that Chaykin wants to share with you. These people are broken and are apt to do ugly, even unspeakable, things. Disconnection. Dissonance. Ah, the stuff of noir!

Image Comics Midnight Chaykin

Creating the right mood is so important. Chaykin is such a masterful draftsman that he can easily use the same drawing, even the same set of panels, again in the same issue. If the artwork is strong and interesting enough, and it lends itself to a satisfying reverberation, then why the hell not? Anyway, it is done to great effect here. This whole first issue to a must-read. For fans, you’ll find Chaykin just as gritty and tough as ever. For new readers, you’re in for a wild ride.

“Midnight Of The Soul #1” is available as of June 8th. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, Noir

Review: DARK PANTS #1 and #2

I find artist Matt MacFarland quite the kindred spirit as he makes comics coming from a fine arts background. Think of it this way, most of us out there love a David Lynch movie because it has all those extra layers of ambiguity. Well, that’s Lynch’s fine arts background at play. Some of us cartoonists began as painters and/or hybrid artists working in various forms of expression: writing, drawing, film, acting, photography, and so on. When you take all that activity and bring it into comics, it can result in some mind-blowing art like MacFarland’s ongoing comics series, “Dark Pants.”

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter's Deli

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter’s Deli

What sets apart one alternative comic from another is this fine art sensibility. You don’t necessarily have to go to art school for it–but it helps. Imagine that, art school actually does have value! I kid you not. It is what you make of it. Here’s another comparison. Try to achieve the comedic chops of Tina Fey without ever joining an improv comedy troupe. It ain’t gonna happen. You need to flex comedic muscles you don’t even know you have–and you need to be around like-minded people in order to really stretch yourself. In time, with the help of others, you’ll realize how much you suck and what you need to do to improve. And so we find ourselves with this comic which unabashedly displays its motif, those dark pants.

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Like Cinderella slipping her bare feet into glass slippers and transmogrifying into a regal beauty, there is something enthralling about a story of transformation. This is certainly not lost on MacFarland as he has one hard luck character after another in his series find a break from their routine when they happen upon a mysterious pair of tight black jeans. In the first issue of this comic, Diego, a drab little guy, becomes a hot lover when he buys these jeans at a thrift store and puts them on. But he soon finds that his newfound sex appeal is far more than he bargained for. By our second issue, the jeans have found their way into the hands of Milena, a lonely virgin who writes a sex column for her college paper. Once those jeans are on, she too is over her head.

Diego's story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

Diego’s story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

It’s interesting that both Diego and Milena were already struggling with their lives before they crossed paths with the sexy jeans. It just stands to reason that these jeans were just as likely to wreck, instead of enhance, their existence. But, who knows, maybe the right sort of loser, like the sort portrayed by Don Knotts or Jerry Lewis, would make the most of a cosmic makeover. So far, MacFarland’s characters are doomed, with or without sex, and that’s just as well for this humorous noir. This is a rare treat. I love MacFarland’s wit and vision.

Milena's story set in Glendale, 2002

Milena’s story set in Glendale, 2002

MacFarland has a very accessible style which goes well with his less commercial, and darker, vision. That said, the darker stuff is not always the less marketable. Overall, I see MacFarland’s work as assured with a refreshing approach and zest. It is a cartoony style that makes me think of ironic cartoonists from the ’90s like Ward Sutton and Michael Dugan. It is a sturdy yet elastic style that makes you think you could poke at the characters and reshape them a bit. With that in mind, it is a style that lends itself well to laughs and/or drifting in and out of reality. Our next victim of the traveling tight dark pants will be a kid named Philip in the upcoming third issue. I look forward to how things develop there.

To learn more, and to purchase comics, visit Matt MacFarlnd right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Matt MacFarland, Minicomics, Noir

Advance Review: CARVER: A PARIS STORY #1

Z2-Comics-Carver-Paris-Story

CARVER: A PARIS STORY is a thrilling noir adventure written and drawn by Chris Hunt. I want you guys to keep an eye out for Chris Hunt since he brings a lot to the table. With his new Carver series, he offers up a world fueled by bold artwork and storytelling. It’s a gritty world you’ll want to come back to.

Chris-Hunt-Hugo-Pratt

Francis Carver is a tough adventurer in 1920s Paris. He has come to the aid of Catherine, the only woman he’s ever loved. Her daughter is being held captive by a most devilish creature, Stacker Lee. In this first issue, we begin with Chapter One, “Who Are You?” Stacker Lee is a gentleman dandy hiding behind a hooded mask. Stacker faces the reader, speaks to someone beyond the frame, makes some threats, and introduces himself byway of introducing his prey to us, Carver.

Carver-Z2-Comics-2015

We’re all just getting to know each other, right? Hunt does a great job with these introductions. His expressive linework is nicely controlled allowing for precision amid an energetic sensibility. Hunt studied under master cartoonist Paul Pope and he’s come away with his own fun and vivid style. I like what he’s doing here with his Hemingwayesque main character. Carver is hard as nails and yet quite vulnerable. Hunt offers up to the reader a whole world of possibilities in the spirit of Milton Caniff and Hugo Pratt.

“Carver: A Paris Story #1” is published by Z2 Comics and available as of November 11, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at Z2 Comics right here.

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Filed under Chris Hunt, Comics, Comics Reviews, Noir, Z2 Comics

Review: WOLF #1, published by Image Comics

Wolf-01-Image-Comics

“Wolf,” is a new comic (script by Ales Kot; art by Matt Taylor) in which we follow Antoine Wolfe, a hard-boiled paranormal detective, down the sun-kissed streets of a noir-infused Los Angeles. The streets are indeed sun-kissed and beautifully harsh thanks to the intense colors by Lee Loughridge. Like any good crime story, we savor the details. One excellent moment simply has Antoine approach an anxious German Shepherd in his path with a mellow, “Meow.” From the start, we know this is going to be one weird tale as we begin with Antoine covered in flames one moment and completely unscathed the next.

Wolf-Image-Comics-Ales-Kot-2015

This original fantasy/horror/crime saga is worthy of comparison to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The narrative rolls along quite smoothly as the plot develops. Antoine is steadily revealed to be adroit as well as a bit out of his depth as we find him caught up in something of apocalyptic proportions. Ultimately, his fate will be linked to that of an orphaned teenage girl. And, through it all, we have a compelling clash between fantasy and gritty crime drama. For instance, Antoine may have supernatural powers but, as an African American, he is regularly reminded that he is not welcome in some places. And Los Angeles is depicted as a twisted wonderland, an amalgam of wilderness and concrete jungle. And full of magic. Wait until you meet Antoine’s pal, Freddy, a most Cthulhu-like fiend.

I am often asked where the best comics are coming from and the short answer is Image Comics. A perfect example is Wolf.

WOLF #1 is available as of July 22nd. It is a 64-page comic priced at $4.99. For more details, visit our friends at Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics, Noir

Review: HIT: 1957 #1 (of 4)

Del-Rey-Boom-Studios-Hit-1957

Las Vegas. It’s a dead end for some and paradise for others. Maybe it’s a little of both for Bonnie Brae. It’s 1957. A lot of water under the bridge since things heated up a couple of years ago. The plan had been to go incognito, start a new life in San Clemente as Marie. But, no, Marie was not going to be left alone so easy. If you were a fan of Hit: 1955, or if you’re new to the party and looking for some good noir comics, this new Hit series is for you.

HIT-1957-Boom-Studios-2015

You’ve got the team of writer Bryce Carlson and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey back to deliver more. Each page is teaming with intrigue graced by Del Rey’s fluid line and Carlson’s gritty narrative. Los Angeles is one big corrupt mess. We find our anti-hero Detective Harvey Slater pushing back on Domino and his Syndicate. He can’t catch a break from the boys in Internal Affairs. And Bonnie Brae is missing. But that is only the beginning. We have ourselves here a deep and dark tale unfolding. Much transpires. A new killer on the loose. And, of course, you didn’t expect Bonnie to just sit still all this time, did you?

Good crime fiction needs to establish a rhythm quickly and then maintain it. Set up your hooks and beats. Cue the atmosphere. Lower the shades. Carlson loses no time creating a pattern and evoking a certain kind of melancholy. You need doomed characters who don’t know they’re doomed. Carlson rolls out our ongoing theme: “Things change. But people don’t.” Del Rey works wonders with her brush: scribbles here form a shadow, overlapping lines there build up to loose crosshatching signifying lust, despair, and a cavalier stare back at death.

BOOM-Studios-HIT-1957-Del-Rey

“HIT: 1957 #1” is available as of March 25. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.

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Filed under 1950s, Boom! Studios, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Los Angeles, Noir, Vanesa R. Del Rey

Review: THE FADE OUT #1

The-Fade-Out-Ed-Brubaker

“The Fade Out” is the new noir series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It opens up with a recollection of the “phantom planes” over Los Angeles, the Japanese bombers imagined but never actually in the air, following Pearl Harbor. Hearing them up above became a nervous habit hard to break. And so the world of Charlie Parish, a schemer and a screenwriter in Hollywood, seems to be just one big bad habit.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime, Crime Fiction, Ed Brubaker, Hollywood, Image Comics, Noir, Sean Phillips

Comic-Con 2014: Vanesa R. Del Rey and HIT: PEN & INK

Vanesa-R-Del-Rey-Pen-Ink-Hit

Vanesa R. Del Rey is an artist with quite an intriguing sensibility. She loves what she does and leaves us in awe with her dangerous women being all bad and mysterious. BOOM! Studios is showcasing that bewitching talent in the debut issue of an exciting new series, focusing on bright new talent. In “Hit: Pen & Ink,” you’ll get your Del Rey fix and then some.

Details follow:

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Filed under Boom! Studios, Comics, Noir, Vanesa R. Del Rey

Review: BURN THE ORPHANAGE: REIGN OF TERROR #3

Burn-The-Orphanage-Daniel-Freedman

You drink the wise blood
You’re gonna hear about it
You’ll be taken down brick by brick by brick
Burn the orphanage
You’re gonna pay for it
They will purify block by block by block

From “Demons” by Sleigh Bells

“Burn the Orphanage” is a bold and sexy beast of a comic. Created by Daniel Freedman (Undying Love) and Sina Grace (Not My Bag), it gives you lovable dead-enders on their way to hell. Now, that’s entertainment.

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Filed under Action, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Daniel Freedman, Image Comics, Noir, Sina Grace