Category Archives: Penguin Random House

Interview: Bob Proehl and ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’

Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl

A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS, the debut novel by Bob Proehl, is a beautiful and quirky book mixing pop culture satire with a compelling family journey. It is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Read my review here.

“For all its acrobatic wit and outsize charm, at its heart this is the love story of two everyday heroes–a mother and son–who, like their author, possess the superpower of storytelling. A ‘Cavalier & Clay’ for the Comic-Con age, ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’ is a bighearted, inventive, exuberant debut.”

–Eleanor Henderson, author of “Ten Thousand Saints”

BOB PROEHL grew up in Buffalo, New York, where his local comics shop was Queen City Bookstore. He has worked as a bookseller and programming director for Buffalo Street Books, a DJ, a record store owner, and a bartender. He has written for the 33⅓ book series and worked as a columnist and reviewer for the arts and culture site PopMatters.com. Proehl currently lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife, stepson, and daughter. It is my pleasure to share with you this interview.

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Filed under Bob Proehl, Book Reviews, Books, Comics, Fiction, Penguin Random House, pop culture, writers, writing

Review: ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe’ by Thomas Ligotti

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The manipulating of elements in a story is always crucial, especially in a work invested in raising a level of suspense. Thomas Ligotti knows this like the back of his hand. Ligotti, as horror stylist of the first rank, knows what to deliver to a contemporary audience. We think, at times, that we can easily step in and write horror stories ourselves. Ligotti invites you to try. Like Lovecraft, and others, he provides notes on the art of horror. In the end, you settle in and read a Ligotti story, then another, and you come to realize that the man is devilishly good at what might, at first, seem like such familiar ground.

Take, for instance, “The Frolic,” the first story in this Ligotti collection by Penguin Random House. “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” came out last year and brings together some of Ligotti’s best work. The publication coincided nicely with HBO’s Ligotti-tinged first season of “True Detective.” Now, in “The Frolic,” we have a neatly-pressed family who have just moved into the neighborhood. The father is a well-regarded psychologist who has taken a position at the nearby prison. He is married to a charming woman and they have an equally charming young daughter. The only problem seems to be that one of the convicts that our main character treats is highly psychotic and is fixated on him. There is every reason to believe that this fiend is safely locked away but there is also reason to believe he is capable of anything. Everything pivots upon the introduction into the family’s home of an intricately sculpted bust of a boy’s head.

Thomas Ligotti Penguin Random House

Time and again, Ligotti lures us in. Consider “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum.” In this story, we deal with the penultimate horror trope: the haunted house on the hill. But the devil is in the details. These are not mere ghosts, if that is what they are, and these entities aren’t satisfied with just a perch from where to sit and observe. Ligotti keeps the reader off balance by supplying bread crumbs of information until we’re so deep in we cannot turn away. Consider “The Last Feast of Harlequin” about Mirocaw, a little town meant to go unnoticed. However, its winter festival is so unusual that it catches the attention of a persistent academic. Mirocaw has no choice but to gradually reveal itself.

Ligotti’s distinctive use of language is a mixture of ornate/contemporary. This highly theatrical style would fall apart with a lesser talent. But just the right curious turn of phrase and enigmatic description can engage the reader. You can pause, at random, and find a compelling passage spiked with the Ligotti sytle:

“The tone of voice in which he posed this question was both sardonic and morose, carrying undesirable connotations that echoed in all the remote places where truth had been shut up and abandoned like a howling imbecile. Nonetheless, I held to the lie.”

There’s been a march away from the sort of traditional gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft for many decades now. But, in the right hands, the sinister and the macabre can indeed thrive amid the foggy moors in the spirit of Poe. Dark fantasy is at the mercy of Ligotti as he can satirize it and embrace it at will.

“Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” is a 464-page paperback published by Penguin Random House. Find more details right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Dark Fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft, Horror, Penguin Random House, Thomas Ligotti, Weird Fiction

Book Review: ‘How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High’ by David Bienenstock

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a Seattle native, I have had a front row seat to the recent sea change we have seen with cannabis. But, even in this fabled region, you can experience two steps forward and one step back. All you need to do is see how the current state regulations have forced medical marijuana dispensaries out in favor of the more tax revenue to be had from retail marijuana shops. But these are still exciting times for an extraordinarily beneficial plant that has been so terribly maligned. A perfect guide for the times is the newly released book, “How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,” by David Bienenstock, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

"How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" by David Bienenstock

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” by David Bienenstock

David Bienenstock is your uniquely qualified host. He is the former West Coast editor of High Times magazine and now a journalist and video host/producer at VICE, where he writes the Weed Eater column and produces a video series called Bong Appetit. He is the guy who will share a joint with you and, as the conversation rolls along, will segue into some history, some science, and some sage advice. The idea here is to show some respect for the plant and yourself. Bienenstock does a great job of balancing his content so it is not too light and yet easy to digest. A book like this can’t help but be a call to action moving along at a good, steady, and stirring pace.

What all the cannabis shops have done is not only bring a plant out from the cold. The shops have welcomed back numerous people who had given up ever again having reliable and trusted access. Many people are coming back who have not gotten high in many years, or who never did in the first place. So, a book like this truly serves any age. Bienenstock, like a good journalist, makes no assumptions on your experience or level or knowledge while, at the same, keeps advancing. If you don’t know the difference between indica and sativa, Bienenstock has got you covered. If you’d like a handy overview of cannabis chemistry, well, keep on reading.

The beauty of the book is that Bienenstock’s good sense for storytelling wins out every time. In tune with his reader, Bienenstock presents a dazzling array of facts, heart-felt observations, and a humanity that should melt the heart of many a naysayer. Mostly, it’s a book there to provide a helping hand in appreciating cannabis. But, as Bienenstock joyfully sings to us, it’s also about a state of mind, dude! The goal is not to necessarily smoke each and every day. The goal is to savor those times when you do. And strive to tap into that bliss the rest of the time. That’s about as highbrow and proper as it gets.

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” is a 288-page paperback, also available as an e-book. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Cannabis, David Bienenstock, High Times, Journalism, Marijuana, Penguin Random House, VICE

Review: ‘The Case Against Satan’ by Ray Russell

Ray Russell illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Ray Russell illustration by Henry Chamberlain

When you write a story about the Devil, you are in some sense, summoning him. You cannot take that lightly for one very good reason: if you don’t take it seriously, you will amount with less than a gripping story. Ray Russell knew not to disturb Satan for no good reason. Russell was, by extension, part of the original Southern California Writers Group of the Sixties. This was “The Group,” the guys who went on to do such amazing things as write for the original Twilight Zone. Ray was not so much a regular at gatherings but he knew the art of writing as well as the best of them. He published the best of them as the fiction editor at Playboy, no less. And his own writing rose to the occasion too. One shining example of this is his 1962 novel, “The Case Against Satan.”

The early Sixties were dripping with modern cool with trailblazers bursting upon all the arts. In writing, one fertile ground was pushing the limits of gothic and dark fantasy. It is in “The Case Against Satan” that Russell broke new ground and created the contemporary demon possession story. It is more than fair to say that it was the precursor to William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, “The Exorcist.” And, most assuredly, it is a novel still every bit as chilling today, oddly enhanced by its vintage. Certain modes of communication, like social media, just weren’t available to our characters in 1962 while others were more commonly relied upon, like a simple pamphlet, printed by the local zealot, and circulated amongst the neighborhood.

Ray Russell Case Against Satan

This is a story that depends a lot upon communication. Susan, a pretty sixteen-year-old, will prove a most enigmatic figure who may, or may not, be possessed by Lucifer himself. Her every word seems to harbor a double meaning. And, as we progress, all depends upon what is true and what is false. This is also a philosophical story as Susan will bring two men with very differing views together to help save her soul. The argument between them is one of faith. Can you only believe what you choose to believe or, when push comes to shove, must you give yourself completely over? The question is whether Satan actually exists. Sure, God is relatively easy to believe in. But, if there is a God, is there not a Satan?

Russell is more than just a master of the horror genre. You could say that simply writing horror is only the first step. In order for it to matter, the writer has to take on his own leap of faith. The writer has to have skin in the game, so to speak. Well, Russell is, without a doubt, a writer willing to give his skin, and heart, over to what he did. He has a way of drawing you in completely too. You arrive closer and closer to the bogeyman to find yourself butting right up against him and then you may gasp, or you may be in awe, as to how you got there. Russell does not hammer away. He may mention something only once but that one time will suffice. You cannot help but bookmark it and eagerly anticipate a return.

Much in line with the trim and fast-paced novels of the era, like Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, “Psycho,” this is story that is very focused, very much a page-turner, with an eerie elegance running throughout. It breaks my heart to think that this was never turned into a major motion picture. With some adjustments, it could still be made as an updated version. Or, better yet, you could remain close to the spooky cool of the original.

Perhaps it might do well to adapt this story into a play. “Doubt” comes to mind. For this is very much a story about overcoming one’s doubt. It is, in large part, a story about Gregory, a priest in crisis, at a crossroads in early middle age. And his counterpart, mentor, and friend, is a visiting bishop. In fact, the meeting between them was to be fleeting at best. However, circumstances would dictate otherwise. Above all else, Russell masterfully balances the inner and outer turmoil of these two, among a cast of other characters emerging from varied backgrounds, all brought together by a demon possession, that may or may not be true.

“The Case Against Satan” is a 160-page paperback published by Penguin Random House. For more information, and to purchase, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Penguin Random House, Playboy, Ray Russell, Satan, Southern California Writers Group, The Twilight Zone

Book Review: ‘Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont’

Charles Beaumont on the set of "The Howling Man." Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

How do you describe the distinctive character of the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)? Well, it has everything to do with its unique literary quality. And how to best speak to that? Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), one of its celebrated writers, is a perfect example. Let’s look at a new collection of his work, published by Penguin Classics, “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont.”

"Perchance to Dream" by Charles Beaumont

“Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont

What a treat this book is for any Twilight Zone fan since here you have some of the original stories by Beaumont that went on to become classic episodes. And you also get them in the context of his work for various magazines of the era, a total of 23 stories in this collection. Consider the title piece, “Perchance to Dream,” first published in Playboy, October 1958, and then turned into a TZ script and broadcast November 27, 1959. A distraught man enters a psychiatrist’s office in fear that he will die if he falls asleep. He is certain this will happen since he sees things that tell him so. For instance, if he stares long enough at a painting, the figures will move around and talk to him. Here, perhaps Beaumont borrows a little from “The Golgotha Dancers,” by Manly Wade Wellman, first published in Weird Tales, October 1937. It’s just enough to fuel another strain in the tradition of weird fiction dating back to Gothic literature. In this case, we have a man in a contemporary setting who has been reduced to a quivering heap as his only solace, to dream, has been denied him.

Charles Beaumont Ray Bradbury

Rod Serling was a writer on the rise, already with a reputation for first-rate work like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” when he decided to try something new. It was to be an anthology series of science fiction and fantasy, the best possible route for him to continue to pursue his social commentary. When Serling approached Ray Bradbury for advice, Bradbury presented him with four books by authors he should know: Ray Bradbury, John Collier, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. Dark fantasy is what Serling was seeking. Beaumont seemed to be dark fantasy incarnate. He was a brash young aspiring writer when Bradbury took him under his wing. In a year’s time, Beaumont was well on his way. In 1950, at 21, he sold his first story to Amazing Stories. And, in 1954, Playboy magazine selected his story “Black Country” to be the first work of short fiction to appear in its pages. His astonishing trajectory would end by a mysterious condition that would cut his life short, at 38, in 1967. A fascinating documentary by Jason V Brock provides great insight into this unique life and career.

Browsing through the titles, you’ll find a wealth of creativity spanning many genres, all of them embracing a sense of the macabre. The opening lines to “The New People” (1958) lure you in with the misgivings of Hank Prentice over buying his first home, that embodiment of the American Dream. Instinctively, he fears for his wife and son: “Too late for what? It’s a good house, well built, well kept up, roomy. Except for that blood stain, cheerful.” And so commences a fine piece of horror with a fine bite of social commentary. Conformity has brought each member of the neighborhood together. However, in order to cope with and stave off boredom, we discover this group gives new, and bloody, meaning to the quaint notion of “community.” In the same spirt as Richard Matheson, Beaumont conjures up a fable that questions our so-called dreams and aspirations.

Charles Beaumont’s work has a distinctive style and it is far from formulaic. What he did was follow a certain way of revealing a greater truth. Beaumont confronted that clean wall of 1950s conformity. He looked closer to see the stress cracks forming. He responded with fiction that helped to tear that wall down.

“Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont” is published by Penguin Classics. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Penguin Random House, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

Review: ‘The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution’

Beer-Ten-Speed-Press-2015

This is one of the most beautiful educational graphic novels I’ve seen this year. And what a subject, beer! It’s a long title but worth it: “The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution.” Inspired, I chatted about the book with my old friend, Roy, at a local pub, Ballard’s own Stoup Brewing, while I went about preparing for this review. “Roy,” I said, ” I am always grateful that, in Seattle, you can literally walk out the door of one’s home and be within walking distance of a first-rate pub.” “Indeed, and Stoup is such an inviting place,” Roy observed. “Ah, to sit back and marvel over all the great things about beer. That’s the life!”

Stoup Brewing in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle

Stoup Brewing in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle

You had me at beer. What “The Comic Book Story of Beer” does is provide you with everything you ever wanted to know about beer in a pleasing full-color, lushly illustrated graphic novel. We begin with a young man bumbling along tasked with getting beer for a special occasion. Once inside an upscale specialty supermarket, he is lost among all the microbrew options. A helpful store employee pops in and conveniently begins our story. From then on, we are on a rollercoaster of information, often colorful and intriguing.

Aaron McConnell The Comic Book Story of Beer

How did beer play an important role in everything from the rise and fall of Ancient Rome, the Dark Ages, the Age of Exploration, the spread of capitalism, and the Reformation? Well, without fear of overstatement, beer is something of a wonder drink. In this clear and concise narrative, Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith weave a most compelling narrative on the health benefits and motivating powers of beer as well as guide you through beer’s robust history. It’s really an exciting story that finds a perfect home within comics.

Beer-Hennessey-Smith-comics

This book does yeoman service in the name of presenting information in an accessible manner. I really admire the artwork of artist Aaron McConnell. I had the pleasure of reviewing his artwork for “The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation,” also with writer Jonathan Hennessey, which you can read here. For this book on beer, McConnell masterfully brings to life abstract subjects like pasteurization, “original gravity,” and “lagering.”

Co-writer Mike Smith adds another layer of authenticity as the beer expert that won over Jonathan Hennessy to the idea of writing a beer book in the first place. It all began when Mike gave Jonathan a tour of Mayflower Brewing Company in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The wealth of information that Mike shared with Jonathan was just too good to pass up. It makes its way into a book that will win you over with its insider insight. For example, our main story is paused by intriguing beer profiles like the one on Belgian Wit and how it was single-handedly saved by a milkman from Flanders. No doubt, this is a pleasing book to behold and easily makes for the perfect gift for anyone into comics and/or beer.

THE COMIC BOOK STORY OF BEER is a 180-page trade paperback published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available as of September 22nd. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Penguin Random House

Review: ‘The Realism Challenge: Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism’

Mark-Crilley-Realism-2015

You may know Mark Crilley from his manga series, “Miki Falls,” or his series with Dark Horse Comics, “Brody’s Ghost.” Or you may know him as the internet viral sensation. Crilley’s drawing demonstration videos have received well over two hundred million views on YouTube. You’ve probably seen them. The challenge is to create hyperrealistic versions of common objects that look just like the real thing—something humans have been trying to do for thousands of years. The French call it “trompe l’oeil.” And now the secrets behind creating this art have been collected in one book so you can see for yourself what it takes to do your own hyperreal drawings.

The Realism Challenge is easy in a lot of ways. Just follow the step-by-step instruction, and you’ll be amazed at the results you can achieve. Even if you don’t fancy yourself an artist, getting to see the process is fascinating. But chances are that, once you become familiar, you’ll want to try your hand at it too.

Toast--from The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley--2015

We hear a lot about the hyperreal world we live in. The realistic work of Mark Crilley is perfectly in step with a zeitgeist that revels in intense, vivid, and urgent reality. That said, realistic art is as timeless as the pursuit of realism.

Mark-Crilley-Hyperrealism

“The Realism Challenge: Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism” is published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is a 160-page trade paperback, with 200 illustrations, priced at $19.99 (Can $23.99). You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Amazon, Art, Art books, Comics, Hyperrealism, Illustration, Mark Crilley, Penguin Random House

Review: MICHAEL MIDAS CHAMPION: BOOK ONE

Michael-Midas-Champion-Ink-Lit

“Michael Midas Champion: Book One” is an all-ages comic that takes superhero tropes thoughtfully and lovingly to a high level of entertainment. It has distinctive characters who not only walk and talk naturally. There’s a genuine quality that will make you want to follow their story. Michael is the good guy who is always bullied by Truck who is always muscling in on Danielle, the girl of Michael’s dreams. But push comes to shove, and Michael must stand his ground.

Champion_01p12

At the heart of this story is young adult nirvana. Tapping into the classic nice guy behind the superhero mask mythos, Jordan B. Gorfinkel has written a powerful story about youth finding the courage to act. And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a nice romance going on once Michael is brave enough to court Danielle. Scott Benefiel is totally in step with his artwork which further humanizes an already compelling narrative. Every superhero has that one villain that knows him a little too well and who is most capable of taking everything he holds dear away from him. That is the dynamic between Michael and Truck. It’s a story you’ll want to check out for yourself. And, by the way, it ends on a perfect cliffhanger.

Jordan-B-Gorfinkel-Ink-Lit-comics

“Michael Midas Champion: Book One” is a 144-page trade paperback, brought to you by Avalanche Comics, InkLit, and Penguin Random House, and is available as of August 4th.

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Filed under Avalanche Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, InkLit, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Penguin Random House, Scott Benefiel, Superheroes

Review: ‘Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory’

Human-Figure-Drawing-Watson-Guptill

Whether you are an artist, or would like to be, being able to draw without a model, but from memory, can be a challenge. With David H. Ross, you are definitely learning from the best. Mr. Ross has worked with all the major North American comic book publishers including Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse Comics. I can tell you, as an artist myself, that he knows numerous techniques that do indeed make it possible to work from memory. Look no further than his new book, “Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory,” published by Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Here you will find the time-honored methods and practical guidelines that you need. In a lot of ways, it all seems rather easy and Ross makes that possible with very clear examples, one step at a time. I believe that clearing all the clutter is essential in art instruction. You address one aspect, focus on that, and move on to the next. Ross begins with the first place you need to go and that’s the space that your model inhabits. If you’ve ever felt a need for a refresher on perspective, you’ll find it here.

David-H-Ross-Drawing

The basics and then some, that’s what this book offers. I have fond memories of art school and having my trusty little wooden mannequin as well as a skeleton and skull to keep me company. But, with this book, you find ways to internalize that reference. That’s a key point. So, when you do have your model in the flesh, you can work faster as you go deeper into your interpretation. Anatomy, posture, bone structure, all of this will already be stored away and allow you to concentrate on the unique character of your model. And, of course, with this book’s guidance, you can always work without a model at all.

“Freehand Figure Drawing” is a 208-page trade paperback, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available as of July 28th. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under animation, Art, Art books, Comics, Education, Illustration, Penguin Random House, Watson-Guptill Publications