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Review: ‘Guardians of the Louvre’

Jiro Taniguchi Louvre comics

I would love to know the details on the Louvre series published by NBM. This latest installment, “Guardians of the Louvre,” by acclaimed manga artist Jirô Taniguchi just goes to show once again how unique this subject is and the endless possibilities for it. What a great cartoonist wants in a project, especially one who both writes and draws and has done so for many years, is a task worthy of the enormous effort. And, to sweeten the deal, make it something heroic. A cartoonist loves it when he or she can make a grand gesture.

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

What I’m saying about the grand gesture is so very true. Look at how Taniguchi responds to the task: his main character/alter ego is reduced to a little heap in comparison to the Louvre and its many treasures, opportunities, and mysteries. He arrives in Paris completely spent from a bad case of the flu. He is completely overwhelmed, out of his element, his observations through a fever dream. Like Little Nemo on his magic flying bed, we set off on a most unusual journey.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

Our hero, due to a bad rabbit stew or some such mishap, is now in tune with the supernatural elements of the Louvre. When you consider that we are talking about a museum that is over 200 years old, as large as ten football fields, holding 70,000 pieces of art going back to antiquity, well, it would not be surprising to find that it has many tales to tell and that it is at least a bit haunted, right? Taniguchi asks that you run with that idea.

And so one grand gesture leads to another. We see poltergeist in all their gloopy glory floating about. We meet a beautiful ghost, presumably the Winged Victory. And, it just goes on from there as we go in and out of time, meet various artists long gone expect very much alive in this moment. The Louvre is a House of Leaves. It is a place that insists you shed your normal skin and walk amongst it. You inhabit a place such as the Louvre and you can’t help but let it inhabit you.

“Guardians of the Louvre” is the latest in the NBM Louvre series. It is a full color hardcover, right to left reading manga-style, 8 x 11, 136 pages. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Paris, The Louvre

Book Review: ‘All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories’ by George Clayton Johnson

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

“Maybe she is right. Maybe nobody is interested in another science fiction story about the paradoxical nature of time or the mystery of existence. Maybe all they want is a simple love story with a happy ending.

Fantasy and science fiction doesn’t really exist unless it has a reader.

He has come to believe he will have a reader, so he has always tried to make his behavior justifiable, and as a consequence he spends a large part of his time explaining himself to an invisible judge he calls, “Your Honor,” becoming verbally adept at defending himself.”

— George Clayton Johnson, from “Every Other War”

I am really thrilled to own this book. It is a book that you, dear reader, will likely never own. It is hard to come by. Originally published by Subterranean Press in 1999, it has long since gone out of print. But prove me wrong. Seek it out! In fact, I do hope that will change some day. I strongly recommend that Subterranean Press or some other publisher, say Penguin Random House, create a new version of this 450-page collection.

Keep in mind that the author of this collection, “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories,” is George Clayton Johnson who wrote the first episode broadcast of the original Star Trek series. “The Man Trap” first aired on 8 September 1966. That first broadcast is what marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the most iconic television series in history. What was it about George Clayton Johnson that earned him that distinction? This was someone born into abject poverty at the start of the Great Depression, an 8th grade dropout, forced to leave home at age 15, and yet he would go on to great heights.

For those of you who faithfully keep up with my writing, you know that quite often the source of my various tangents goes back to my first meeting George Clayton Johnson some years back. When I found out about all the pop culture franchises he was a significant part of, then found out about his life, and then found myself charmed my the sheer decency of the man himself, I started seriously considering creating some sort of book about him. I was able to tell him about it as well as show him some of it before he passed away. He gave me his blessing. I told him, at the time, that I was still figuring out how to best present the issue of cannabis, as that was very important to him. He listened. He talked. He said to follow my passion. The meeting with him, in his home, in December of 2014, would be the last time I’d get to see him. I had gone to see him again, in December of 2015. I’d been invited and he still sounded hearty and joyful. But it was too late. He had been moved to hospice by then.

“I told you the other night how I’d re-read ‘All of Us Are Dying’ and how much I enjoyed it. When I came to the end of this story and read the last lines, I got goose flesh on my neck. What greater tribute can I offer you? Thanks for the neck bumps.”
–Ray Bradbury

George hung on until Christmas. George died on Christmas Day. His great mentor, Rod Serling, was born on Christmas Day. There certainly seemed to be some cosmic and poetic thing going on. And then you add George’s favorite subject, Mr. Death, the defying of death, the taunting of death. George, no doubt, left this world on his own terms. And here I am telling you yet again about what has become quite a subject for me: George and all things related to George. Yes, this is how creative people such as myself think. And, dear God, there will be a final resolution as I do intend to put the book out as soon as possible. It will be in a graphic novel format with plenty of room for the art and plenty of room for the text. They will need to trade places from time to time. Anyway, all this leads to my getting my hands on this particular book. I dare say, it is something of a Holy Grail for some geeks such as myself. My copy is a Publisher’s Copy and was from the library of writer Stanley Wiater. Stanley, if you wondered what became of your book, I’ve got it now, mate.

George Clayton Johnson with Robert Redford on the set of "Nothing in the Dark"

George Clayton Johnson with Robert Redford on the set of “Nothing in the Dark”

Each story in this book will tug at you. Take the story of two boys, George and Abraham. They just figured they’d make great friends, with great prospects, considering they each had the best of presidential first names. This was during the Great Depression when these two reveled in each other’s company. Neither of them had a cent between them. Then one day, they thought about how much they’d love to own a bicycle. If only they had a bike, the roads would be free for them to explore at will. They decide upon buying a beauty in flaming red enamel that they spot in a shop in town. The price of twenty-two dollars and ninety-five cents seems out of reach. But they find various odd jobs and their goal becomes attainable. They while away the time by mostly doing things that don’t cost them anything like listening to the radio perched on the windowsill of Abraham’s bedroom. George would be at that very same windowsill as he sits in vigil for his friend dying from scarlet fever. And so the friendship, the bicycle, that time and place make up this short story, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” This is just one of the many gems to be found in “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson.

"All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories" by George Clayton Johnson

“All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson

Fans of the original television show, The Twilight Zone, will readily come to see which of these short stories in this collection would have made for another great teleplay by Johnson. But, as this book makes abundantly clear, you don’t need any prior Twilight Zone knowledge to enjoy Johnson’s work. How about “The Hornet,” a story of man versus insect with the insect seeking justice? Or perhaps “Dealer’s Choice,” a story about soldiers endlessly playing cards in order to avoid death? Or “The Freeway,” a story set in the future when cars mostly drive themselves and contribute to much less alert humans. Johnson wrote some of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes thanks to the show’s creator and main contributor, Rod Serling, taking a chance on him. Johnson’s first accepted story submission was “All of Us Are Dying.” Serling bought it and did the necessary reworking to have it better fit his vision, including changing the title to, “The Four of Us Are Dying.” Johnson always maintained that it was a great lesson in how to write for Serling. But, in the end, he liked his version best and thus the title to this collection. In both versions, it is essentially a shape-shifter story: a man who can change his face. In Serling’s version, there’s this specificity about the man attempting to exploit his gift. In Johnson’s version, the man is all the more vulnerable, not in control, and all the more universal.

As this book demonstrates, Johnson’s overriding plan was simply to create the best work. In later years, he went on to create more inventive work with the same care and precision as when he first started out. There’s the short story “Thorndyke,” for example. A couple argue at a party. It is a male and female. The female has been badgering the male all night. She wants to know why he won’t sleep with any of the other females. Thorndyke insists that he isn’t interested. Finally, at his wife’s insistence, he goes to see a psychiatrist about his disorder. It is determined that Thorndyke has a severe case of manogomy. And, as it turns out, these characters are actually rabbits. Thorndyke is the rebel seeking to remain faithful to his wife.

Check out the amazing cover art by Burt Shonberg, 1957.

Check out the amazing cover art by Burt Shonberg, 1957.

Wow, what do you think of the book’s cover art? That’s by Burt Shonberg, 1957. George would have been around 28 years-old when that portrait of Frankenstein playing a saxophone was first created. George and Burt and Doug Myres (the Gateway Singers) together ran a little shack of a cafe on Laguna Beach called Café Frankenstein from 1958–59. Burt created various Frankenstein art for the cafe. Apparently, he always favored a Frankenstein motif and, in his own way, so did George.

The most unusual work in this collection is “The Edge of the World,” a screenplay commissioned by Sid and Marty Croft for quite a quirky movie. It is an ambitious and colorful romp of a tale with Christopher Columbus transported to modern day New York City. What a movie this could have been! It’s fun to read such a sprawling and loose work. Johnson manages to get Columbus down into the bowels of the NYC subway system where he makes friends with a tough motorcyclist named, Cheyenne. The two get along and share a joint. This is significant subtext as it brings in references to Johnson’s home state and his lifelong support for cannabis. It also cues the reader to the building conflict, and irony, of Columbus interacting with Native Americans.

Like a rocket, Johnson’s career blasted off with his co-writing the novel that was the basis for the Rat Pack classic movie, “Ocean’s Eleven.” Johnson was only 30 years-old in 1959, when he became part of the TZ writing team. By the mid-1970s, he had written for the original Star Trek TV series and co-written the novel, “Logan’s Run,” the basis of the blockbuster 1976 movie, the most lavish sci-fi film of its day, only to be surpassed the following year by “Star Wars.” Johnson kept on writing. He even created a show ahead of its time, “A Man’s World,” where women are in charge and maintain a male figurehead for appearance’s sake. While Johnson’s show was rejected, a similar show would subsequently get the green light, “Charlie’s Angels.”

“George Clayton Johnson continues to write what he believes in regardless of the marketplace. He is the real deal. He is what other writers mean when they point to someone and say that he is a writer. He is a fellow traveler in search of the Greater Truth, of a kind of unified field theory for the human condition. For this is the true subject of his writing and the abiding core that gives it such weight and strength.
–From the Afterword by Dennis Etchison

The case of George Clayton Johnson is unique in that this was a writer who was most concerned with quality and originality. His worst enemy, Johnson was prone to say, was a meddling producer eager to copy the latest hit show. Johnson was attracted to a challenge, something unusual. A perfect example is his flash forward narrative for an episode of “Kung Fu.” Instead of a conventional flash back, the main character to this story is dependent upon something happening in his future. It is this desire to strive for the most inventive, and most immersive, storytelling that is a hallmark of Johnson’s work. This brings me back to the above quote. For those who knew George Clayton Johnson, they know he was quite a jovial and energetic defender of his work, and deservedly so.

Reading "All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories"

Reading “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories”

You can always look up video of Johnson’s work for Star Trek, Ocean’s Eleven, Logan’s Run, and, of course, The Twilight Zone. Here is a quote from “Kick the Can,” one of the most iconic TZ episodes and one of the four that was later to be showcased in 1983’s “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and George Miller.

“Maybe, the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. Maybe, it’s a way of looking at things – a way of thinking.”
–From “Kick the Can” (Episode aired 9 February 1962)

As Johnson describes in his short autobiographical novel, “Every Other War,” he had been struggling to sell short stories he knew in his heart would find a buyer–and yet did not. That includes the above mentioned, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” Things looked very bleak at the time. “Kick the Can” was still in its early drafts. It would prove to be one of Johnson’s best works.

What I want to leave you with, the goal of my own book on George, is to celebrate an individual who fought for the integrity of his work and went the extra mile to be insightful, poetic, and heroic. Take a look at his teleplay for Route 66 and you see an unusual story of playing the game of life. Take a look at his teleplay for The Law and Mr. Jones and you find an offbeat path to seeking justice.

Boil it all down, and George’s favorite among his work is his Twilight Zone teleplay, “Nothing in the Dark.” And his favorite lines are delivered by Robert Redford with all the grace one could ever hope for.

“You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.”
–From “Nothing in the Dark” (Episode aired 5 January 1962)

George was definitely attracted to the theme of death. It was H.P. Lovecraft who famously said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Death is the ultimate unknown. Lights out. What now? It’s the only game in life where, in the end, you’re guaranteed not to come out alive. It’s just a question of what you do while you’re around. George lived his life to the fullest. He won.

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Filed under Dennis Etchison, George Clayton Johnson, Native Americans, pop culture, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Star Trek, Television, The Twilight Zone, Wyoming

Book Review: ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA

On March 9, 2016, around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time, there was a gas leak explosion in the Greenwood area of Seattle. Businesses were destroyed and people were displaced. The crisis also brought people together. The community center, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), stepped up to co-ordinate the Greenwood Relief Fund. And the literary center for youth, the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI), chose to donate all proceeds from their newly-created book to the relief effort. The book, “Encyclopedia Greenwoodia,” begun a year before the explosion, took on a greater significance after the explosion, and has an uncanny relevance to community-building.

Firefighters work at the scene of a building explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

Firefighters at the scene of explosion in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. March 9, 2016 Reuters

The explosion took place right across the street from BFI’s storefront, Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. All tolled, the blast damaged more than fifty establishments, destroying Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros, Greenwood Quick Stop grocery, and much of G&O Family Cyclery. So much disruption. So much to rebuild. In fact, as of this writing, BFI’s operations are currently housed at the PNA. A reopening of BFI at its original Greenwood site is set for this July.

"ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids"

“ENCYCLOPEDIA GREENWOODIA: A Compendium of Writing About Our Neighborhood by Famous Adult Writers and BFI Kids”

It is essential to be aware of and to care about your neighborhood. Fortunately, no one died or was severely injured. But this crisis did spur on renewed energy and commitment. One of the things that makes Phinney-Greenwood unique is the activity going on at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Originally part of Dave Eggers’s 826 network of literacy centers, BFI still remains loyal to 826 but has also branched off on its own. That added freedom is what allowed BFI the flexibility to respond to the Greenwood explosion by donating the sales of its latest book. And it is this book that is a testimony to what makes this neighborhood so vital.

What you can expect from this quirky “encyclopedia” is an anthology of wonderful writing from all ages and backgrounds, from professional writers all the way to kids just starting out. Flip through and you’ll land on some gem. We start with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s lively essay recounting the local effort to save Pluto’s status as a planet. Look further, and there’s BFI’s own anthology editor, Bill Thorness, sharing the story of Seattle’s first Ferris wheel, part of the Woodland Park Pavilion, operating from 1919 to 1934. The kids from BFI provide joyful and insightful work too. There’s the report from 9-year-old Maya Mullaney about the director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, Lee Harper, and her being a professional service dog trainer. Another story comes from 9-year-old Meghan Doyle. She recounts the sensory experience of visiting the venerable Couth Buzzard Books with its great selection of books…and brownies.

Getting deeper into the quirky and literary side of Greenwood is Paul Constant’s piece about a mysterious mailbox in Greenwood that promises each visitor a touch of poetry. Such a dazzling prospect! Paul is a co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. He has written for The Progressive, Newsweek, Re/Code, the Utne Reader, and many North American alternative weeklies. He proves to be the perfect person to consider the merits of this poetry-delivery mechanism. Does it work? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!

Reading David Schmader's "Cleaning Greenwood"

Reading David Schmader’s “Cleaning Greenwood”

I’ll leave you with one more from this impressive collection. David Schmader is a writer known for his essays and one-person plays and is now the Creative Director for BFI. When David first arrived in Seattle in 1991, fresh out of school and looking for a job, he worked for a time in Greenwood as part of a house cleaning team. As he describes in his own inimitable way, this wasn’t anything like being a chummy part of the family like on “The Brady Bunch.” No, this was like a military operation, mission-focused. David attacks his tasks with precision until one fateful day when he’s ordered to dust these massive mounted busts of wild game. That’s a challenge that a devout vegetarian must face one way or another.

“Encyclopedia Greenwoodia” proves to be a timely book on neighborhood goodwill in so many ways. It is a 200-page paperback, with photos and a local map, priced at $10 (US) plus shipping. Consider picking up a copy for yourself. All proceeds go to the Greenwood Relief Fund. Find this book right here.

You may also consider a donation to Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Your tax-deductible donation to BFI supports the only program in Seattle created solely for and dedicated to improving the communication skills of Seattle youth through a wide range of free writing and tutoring opportunities. For more information, visit BFI right here.

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Filed under Bureau of Fearless Ideas, Dave Eggers, David Schmader, Literacy, Paul Constant, Phinney Neighborhood Association, Seattle, Seattle Review of Books

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.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Your novel is a mix of family drama and satire. I see it in the long tradition of novels. Are you more of a traditional writer?

BOB PROEHL: I’m a fairly traditional writer. I write long form. I write novels. I sat down with this and I knew, pretty early on, that it was a big project, of novelistic length.

HC: Your satire seems to have a gentle bite to it while still being complex. You’re critiquing consumer culture and corporate interest while you’re also celebrating storytelling. Can you speak to that?

BP: It’s written very much from that fan community. I’ve been a comic book fan for as long as I can remember. It’s a community that I see too often portrayed in a really negative light. I think the general public perception of geekdom, or fandom, comes from that “Big Bang Theory” portrayal: nerds living in their mother’s basements. And that’s not true. It’s not true to my experience or what I see at cons or when I talk to other people. So, while I did want to poke a little bit of fun, I also wanted to put out a more positive portrayal of that subculture.

HC: Well, I see a fun satire, like when you have, in the book, the superhero, The Ferret; or your parody of “The X-Files” which you call, “Anamoly.” There’s a certain level of snark, or am I reading that wrong?

BP: Very loving snark. The Ferret is sort of my Spider-Man stand-in. Basically, there’s nothing that much more absurd about a character with magical ferret powers than another character who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gets really strong and agile. So, if there is some snark there, it’s done with a lot of love.

A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS by Bob Proehl

A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS by Bob Proehl

HC: Share with us the storytelling going on between Valerie and Alex. She recites bedtime stories to her son based on plot lines from the hit sci-fi show she used to star in. That’s her way of revealing. How did that device come about?

BP: That was a device that developed over the course of a couple of drafts. When I first wrote it, it was clear to me that she was just recounting plots. And, as the idea developed, it became more of an interactive thing between her and Alex. I went back and reread Margaret Atwood’s “Blind Assassin” which does this brilliant thing where two of the characters are co-creating a science fiction story. They’re playing it back and forth like a narrative tennis. That same thing is happening between Alex, the boy in my story, and Brett, the comic book creator. They end up collaborating. What I wanted to get across with Val and her son, Alex, is that storytelling drifts that way anyway. The way she tells the stories from these episodes has to do with where they’re at and is very responsive to what he needs and what he needs to know.

HC: Tell us about how the origin story sections in your book came about. Some are superhero origin stories and some are origin stories for the characters in the book.

BP: I really love the phrase, “secret origin.” It’s an old DC Comics term. You knew about the character’s past but they’d then introduce this new bit of information. I saw that as part of the backstory in my book. They were sort of thought experiments, especially for the superhero ones. Just emoting, or empathizing with the high concepts of superhero characters. Backstory can be difficult to organically bring into the story. I wanted these origin pieces to be little stories in themselves. The one for the Idea Man was originally not backstory but the beginning of the narrative. It made for a clunky start so it became a flashback. And the one with Val in the theater was one of the last chapters to be written and it didn’t come together until a third draft. While I was working on it, I called a friend who is a stage actor and acted him about his process for preparing a scene. That actually helped.

HC: What writers are you currently reading?

BP: I had to take a bit of pause from fiction as I started working on another book. But I just started reading “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi, which is fantastic. I’m scrambling to catch up on titles that have come out this month. I find that, when you’re away from fiction, it’s such a treat to return to it. Lately, I’ve been reading Polish history and weird research books for this other project.

HC: From your vantage point, how do you see alternative comics doing? All these “alternatives” to superhero comics, do you see a steady climb in readership?

BP: I think so. I think that’s where a lot of the top talent is going. They are moving away from corporate-owned properties and moving to creator-owned work. I don’t think they’re referred to as alternative comics anymore. It’ not like R. Crumb or the Hernandez brothers anymore. It’s a significant portion of the mainstream and the new readership. There’s a limit to how many readers you can bring in to all the superhero continuity. But, at the same time, there are people doing fresh new stuff that’s more accessible. And that’s exciting. I’ve been reading comics for twenty years and will continue to do so. I’m part of the target audience. But, for new readers, there’s other ways to access Batman.

HC: Do you think it would be interesting for your book tour to crossover to reading in a comic book shop?

BP: Yes, in fact, tomorrow I will be in Philadelphia and I’ll be at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse. And then later, in July, I’ll be in Portland at Books with Pictures. So, mostly doing traditional bookstores for this tour. But, there’s those two comic book shops and I’m really excited about that.

HC: You have a significant music background. You’ve been a DJ and a record store owner. Any interest in writing a novel set in the music scene?

BP: I still want to do that. I have something in the que and that may result in something set in New York City, the punk scene in the mid-70s. But this current book, curiously, has no musical references.

HC: For this book, you had comic con experience to draw from.

BP: When I was growing up in Buffalo, I worked for a comic book dealer. It was for one summer. We didn’t do conventions; we did shows. They would be in suburban malls. There would be a dozen other comic book dealers there. And kids like me would come trying to find issues missing from their collections. But I was already there. I got first dibs. I got paid in comics. That worked out well.

End papers by Esad Ribic

Endpapers by Esad Ribic

HC: What can you tell us about the beautiful endpapers to this book by artist Esad Ribic?

BP: I went down in the fall to meet with the folks at Viking. It was the publisher who suggested that we hire a comic book artist to do an illustration for the endpapers. We decided upon Esad Ribic. I got to describe to him all the visual references like what does the robot look like. It is supposed to be the sort of illustration that the character, Brett, would draw for Alex. It was fun to go back and forth. At one point, I was trying to describe the background, something like the Emerald City or Gallifrey from Doctor Who. And then it occurred to me it was like futuristic cities that Esad was known for drawing.

HC: Would you ever write a comic book script?

BP: I would love to. I have heard that it can be incredibly difficult. There are all sorts of constraints–but constraints can be fun as a writer. I listened to an interview with G. Willow Wilson. She was a novelist before she came to comics. She wrote, for example, the novel, “Alif the Unseen.” Currently, she’s working on Ms. Marvel. She said the technical constraints to writing for comics are mind-boggling: all the mapping out of panels; mindful to have something surprising take place on the left-hand page. I would love to but I haven’t had the opportunity yet. I imagine it would be a challenging transition.

HC: Anything you can tell us about what you’re working on now?

BP: I’m in the middle of projects. After the book tour, I’ll see what might have legs.

HC: Perhaps the book tour will inspire an essay or perhaps more.

BP: I am looking forward to the next big project, that’s what I like best, something big.

HC: Much success to you on the tour and whatever you do next.

BP: Thank you, Henry.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking below:

Be sure to follow Bob Proehl at his site right here. You can also find “A Hundred Thousand Worlds” at Penguin Random House right here.

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

Book Review: ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’ by Bob Proehl

"A Hundred Thousand Worlds" by Bob Proehl

“A Hundred Thousand Worlds” by Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl is in touch with the natural, yet complex, details of a mother and son relationship. In Proehl’s debut novel, he has Valerie Torrey face the bittersweet transition of her son, Alex, leaving behind childhood and quite literally having to say goodbye to his mom. It’s complicated but, in this case, inevitable.

Alex Torrey is a nine-year-old boy who hasn’t seen his dad, Andrew, in six years. In Alex’s world, his dad is three things: an actor in Los Angeles; a movie star he can see on TV; and, just for fun, the character he plays, a time traveling secret agent. It was Valerie who made the reckless decision to kidnap her son and raise him in New York. Now, Val seems to want to make things right by reuniting Alex with Andrew. Throw in an assortment of superheroes, monsters, and robots, and you have the engaging debut novel by Bob Proehl, “A Hundred Thousand Worlds,” published by Viking.

This story hangs together very well on the tiny frame of nine-year-old Alex, who is at that magical age of still being very much a child and yet capable of profound observation. He is a character type that has been brilliantly employed in some great fiction from such diverse writers as Günter Grass, John Irving, and Jonathan Safran Foer. So, Proehl has created his very own charming and sad little imp. Alex questions everything. He has certain rituals he follows to help him find answers like reversing the letters to various names hoping to tap into some hidden meaning. It makes no sense to an adult but follows kid logic. From this heartbreaking innocence we can compare our own journey to self-discovery.

Valerie met Andrew while the two were starring in the hit sci-fi series, “Anomaly.” The mystery is what triggered Valerie to run away with Alex to New York. Proehl sets in motion a clever device to get Valerie, Andrew, and Alex reunited. Six years of separation from his father has taken its toll on Alex, a situation crying out for resolution. Valerie leverages her pop culture status and picks up some appearances on the comic book convention circuit, enough to cover her expenses on her odyssey with Alex, from New York back to Los Angeles. Along the way, we get plenty of jokey references to the comic book industry, many which will be appreciated by diehard fans.

Proehl’s work is ambitious as he juggles numerous pop culture references while developing something deeper. He does a wonderful job of straddling the lighthearted accessibility of a young adult novel with the richer field of literary fiction. Valerie, for example, is quite compelling as a flawed character. Andrew has made some obvious bad choices but Valerie has much to work out like her smothering overprotective nature.

Proehl knows how to satirize pop culture quite well. It is remarkable that he also knows how to evoke the qualities that attract us to mass entertainment. Nothing is ever so simple, not a divorce, not a child, not even a comic book.

“A Hundred Thousand Worlds Hardcover” is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, available as of June 28, 2016. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here.

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Review: A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

"A City Inside" by Tillie Walden

“A City Inside” by Tillie Walden

I was running late and I decided the best thing to do was to run even later. I stopped by to have a gourmet treat, a bison burger at Eve, one of the new trendy eateries in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Eve is not yet a year old but, in human years, I suppose it’s already a teenager. The place is always immaculate and it seems to have settled into a nice groove. I went to my favorite table near the window and the waitress, with a really dazzling arrangement of tattoos, took my order. With a glass of wine, I turned my attention to one of the most pleasing mini-comics I’ve read in quite a while, “A City Inside,” by Tillie Walden, published by Avery Hill Publishing.

By the time I had read Tillie Walden’s mesmerizing book, my bison burger was served. I started munching and thinking over what this book meant to be. I wondered how many people had bison and wine while contemplating a mini-comic by Tillie Walden. That would be a rare subset of a subset of a select group. Everything about this comic adds up to a beautiful rare bird. Think of it as going to a really good art gallery show. Sometimes you’ll get a pang of regret wishing more people were there with you to share the experience.

Up, up, in the air with Tillie Walden

Up, up, in the air with Tillie Walden

Or, instead of art galleries, just think of comic strips. Walden’s work is as accessible, and full of possibility, as some of the best comic strips. Take Little Nemo in Slumberland, for example. Now, there’s some truly fanciful stuff going on. Consider Krazy Cat and Ignatz, early Popeye, even Peanuts. Comics strips, by their very nature, are ethereal and odd. Speaking of Little Nemo, Walden’s alter-ego, just like Nemo, enjoys taking her bed out for a spin like a magic carpet ride. Much of what we see in “A City Inside” is a wonderful ode to a daydream nation and to overcoming the trepidations of a young person. Walden celebrates all the great eccentricity to be found in comics.

The city beckons.

The city beckons.

What Walden does in “A City Inside” is invite you inside her head–or appear to do so. The main character, her alter-ego and/or a universal character, shares her concerns with the reader. The narrative appears to occur during a therapy session. The young woman is contemplating her future. It is one she knows will require overcoming fears and, ultimately, it may require leaving behind her lover. But the important thing is that the future is hopeful. She will find her way. She will gain admission into the wondrous city. Walden does a great job with a light drawing style to go along with her light lyrical prose. Some of the narrative is enigmatic, elusive, ethereal. But, in the end, it all makes sense.

“A City Inside” is a 56-page trade paperback, published by Avery Hill Publishing. Visit Avery Hill right here. And find more Tillie Walden comics at Retrofit Comics right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Avery Hill Publishing, Comics, Independent Comics, Retrofit Comics, Tillie Walden

Book Review: ‘Disappearance at Devil’s Rock: A Novel’ by Paul Tremblay

"Disappearance at Devil's Rock" by Paul Tremblay

“Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay’s latest novel, “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock,” rings true with elements of a boy’s adventure tale mixed with a crime mystery that takes one devilish turn after another. Gradually, the heat is turned up and, like any good work of horror, you get hooked. Taking a different approach from Tremblay’s 2015 novel, “A Head Full of Ghosts,” this new novel does not go in spooky right away.

This is a tale of a boy gone missing. Tommy is a well-liked teenager, with swagger and good looks, but he normally keeps a low profile. He has two best friends in all the world, Josh and Luis, and he treats them rather shabbily. Boys will be boys. What becomes apparent is that Tommy is a complicated kid. There is something strange and sad about him.

The dynamic between the three boys shifts when Arnold, a young man of indeterminate age, ingratiates himself into the trio. Arnold reveals he has psychic powers. This leads Tommy to open up about his struggle with dealing with his father’s death. Luis senses something not quite right about Arnold. Our story begins with the disappearance of Tommy at Split Rock, known to the locals as “Devil’s Rock.” From there, the narrative alternates between the search for Tommy and moments in the past that indicate Tommy was not as strong as he thought and quite vulnerable to the Devil’s charms.

Favoring an enigmatic route, Tremblay invests a good amount of time in developing the characters closest to Tommy like his mother and sister. Some of the strongest scenes involve them trying to make sense of what’s happened. It’s like the foreboding flashbacks belong to the males and the present problem-solving belongs to the females. In both cases, the Devil is not far behind. As is made clear in a folktale that Arnold recites, the Devil has a funny way of making his presence known. You will sense him but not exactly see him, only for a glimmer in the corner of your eye.

“Disappearance at Devil’s Rock,” is a 336-page hardcover published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins and available as of June 21st. For more details, visit Harper Collins right here.

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Preview: MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE is a new project that I want to share with you. It is an illustrated novel by Jennifer Daydreamer and Henry Chamberlain. This is a dark comedy about Seattle that will be coming out later this year. More details to follow. Here is a synopsis along with an excerpt.

What It’s About:

Seattle, 2014. Mack Stuckey is stuck in a rut. He’s twenty-three-years-old, still lives at home, hates his job and has no girlfriend.

Mack is a blue collar type with a penchant for books. He’s from a family of fishermen and lives in a neighborhood called Ballard. He has to work in Fremont, a tech hub, where he’s a lowly security guard at the giant game conglomerate, Game Needle.

Mack stumbles into a friendship with the suave Devon Rush, one of the high-powered suits at Game Needle. Things are looking up in his life until he realizes Devon’s new romantic conquest is the girl he’s falling for, none other than the beautiful Jupiter Fellows.

Jupiter is one of Fremont’s most alluring hippies. As the two guys compete for her, Mack’s life becomes a roller coaster. Before they know it, Jupiter cajoles Mack and Devon to partake in a threesome.

Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe is a dark comedy exploring the new realities in our economic times. There’s plenty of sex and foul language, therefore, FOR MATURE READERS ONLY.

Mack Stuckey stuck in a rut.

Mack Stuckey stuck in a rut.

Excerpt:

The siren sounds. I stare at the bridge. The skies, the mountains, the waters, are all a thick painted grey. I run, head down, as if the clouds are pressing against me. Shadows descend. My vision darkens. I know a storm will hit.

Washington State is a tease. The truth is it does not rain much here; we are just taunted with pregnant skies for months on end. And, yes, you will hear this fact about the weather in every Tom and Dick book out there about Seattle. But most of you don’t read, so I’m filling you in.

It’s grey most of the year and when the rain decides to happen it happens in annoying spurts as its usually polite fucking rain. Like it will start to rain in the evening when most people are lucky enough to be home from work. Or it will rain like hell in the middle of the night, where you are warm and dry and can hear the motherfucker lighting and all, from the safety of your home.

If you’re lucky and your roof doesn’t leak, you can enjoy thinking of all the greenery and how the rain is, you know, a supernatural phenomenon, because the pounding on your rooftop and on the ground, is FUCK YEAH UNBELIVABLE.

It gets your mind spinning at night, a rain to meet head on with in a forest, like you’re Indiana Jones. But you’re not Indiana Jones. You’re a fat lazy twenty-three-year-old fuck, a bear, lying in bed, in your mom’s old faded blue home, fantasizing about Indiana fucking Jones, running and slipping and jumping in the jungle and the rain and all. You’re wide awake from drinking too much coffee that day and therefore you’re an irresponsible lazy ass northern bear not getting enough sleep for the job you gotta go to tomorrow.

But, right here, right now, on top of the Aurora Bridge while I frantically blow my whistle as uncaring cars drive by puffing exhaust into my face, the rain turns the oil on the road into nasty slick circles which makes me slip.

I go down.

The cops descend on me, lift me up off the ground, chide me that I’m not one of them and then nudge me along back to my job. I’m not one of them alright.

I’m a lousy security guard. Deflated, I walk back to work in a downpour.

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Filed under Books, Henry Chamberlain, Humor, Jennifer Daydreamer, Satire, Seattle

Book Review: WEED: THE USER’S GUIDE by David Schmader

"Weed: The User's Guide: A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana" by David Schmader

“Weed: The User’s Guide: A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana” by David Schmader

With cannabis, you have a loaded subject, so to speak. Bringing up marijuana can often elicit nervous giggles. And people usually don’t know what they are giggling about. It’s time for all of us, especially government, to grow up. As cannabis continues to go mainstream, all of us, users and nonusers, need to get better educated on a very misunderstood plant. Over time, the general public will come to accept the many medical benefits derived from cannabis. What is more challenging is for everyone to enter a parallel universe where cannabis is accepted, integrated into our lives, and its use is common knowledge. To that end, one of the very best cannabis books as of late is “Weed: The User’s Guide: A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana” by David Schmader, published by Sasquatch Books.

The good news is that, for responsible folks, easy accessibility to weed should be a relatively easy transition. Retail sales of cannabis in Washington state, for example, are already geared to an older, and supposedly wiser, demographic. These are going to be, by and large, people who have a stake in the community and are basically going to do the right thing, so to speak. They will buy some weed and treat it in the way they would having a glass of wine on the weekend. Well, that is one ideal scenario. Schmader’s book covers not only this neat and tidy group but all of us. People can overdo it. People can go blindly into something. You know, all of us.

What I really love about this book is that, along with being entertaining, it is so honest in its approach. Hey, if weed it not for you, well then, that’s totally valid. Here is a great example of Mr. Schmader’s accessible and natural tone running throughout this essential book:

“Weed’s pleasurable effects are brought on by cannabinoids’s disruption of the brain’s neural messaging–but “disrupting neural messaging” is an imprecise art, and different strains in different brains can create effects that cross the line from pleasant and fascinating to itchy and weird. For example, the neuron-disruption that some users experience as expanded consciousness can trap others in a cul-de-sac of hypercritical introspection, and one person’s THC-driven explosion of creative ideas can be another person’s panic attack. The truth is that a good number of people who try weed experience predominately unpleasant effects, from intense anxiety to racing heart rates to crippling self-consciousness, and if you are one of these people, it is your right to never try weed again, no matter how persuasively it’s pitched to you. Think of it like coffee: Some love it and can’t imagine life without it, while others drink it and become insomniacs with diarrhea.”

The above quote is part of the sensible approach that is much needed as the discussion on cannabis moves forward. It is insightful to use the coffee analogy. If a person picks that apart, it might prove to be a useful reference point. The consumption of cannabis can be a challenge to compare to something else or describe in an objective way. Supporters will cite that no one has died from overusing it. However, misuse of it will mess you up just like beer, wine, or even coffee, can trash you in their own unique ways.

As a connoisseur, Schmader is good at not mincing words and getting to the point. Among numerous insightful factoids, you’ll learn one of the best weed hacks is to eat a mango before getting high. Both cannabis and mangoes have the chemical compound, myrcene, which speeds the delivery of THC to the brain. Schmader provides straightforward instruction on everything from how to use a bong to how to turn an apple into a pipe. You’ll get acquainted with a “green hit,” the first draw from a freshly packed bowl. You’ll get helpful suggestions on dose levels. And you’ll get cut-above recipes like his instructions on how to make your own tinctures.

Given the chance, some people would eat a whole chocolate cake. Thanks to David Schmader’s book, you can see how you can avoid eating the whole cake and still have a fun party.

“Weed: The User’s Guide: A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana” is a 208-page paperback. For more details, visit Sasquatch Books right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cannabis, David Schmader, Marijuana, Sasquatch Books

Essays: When You Need Help

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Dalton Trumbo was a very prolific writer. Even during the time he was black-listed during the Red Scare, he steadily kept on creating screenplays. His one weakness was writer’s block. He solved that my relaxing in a warm bath–with a typewriter. Yep, he wrote his best work while siting in his bathtub. We all do what we need to do.

Some of us out there would never dare ask for any kind of help when working on a writing project. And, sure, most of the time, most folks can handle something like an essay–but not always. There are a number of things that can help and I’ve tried them all at different times. Let’s see, the first thing is to have a clear mind that allows you to focus. But if various factors start to close in on you, and you have a looming deadline, then keep in mind that, all is not lost. You can always find essay writing help.

Now, in college, I thought of myself as a perfectionist but, at such a young age, I was still battling a really bad case of procrastination. Lucky, for me, way back then, I had Barbara, a friend I could rely upon to help me out of a tight spot. In fact, she was my best friend in all the world. We’d go out. We’d kiss. She’d tease. But, basically, we were just friends. In the same spirit as our relationship, she wouldn’t come right out and write my whole paper for me, even though I sometimes begged her to. But, rubbing my back, and reassuring me with hugs, she would provide the necessary hints to get me going. And that always did the trick. She got me going really well with jokes, puns, even acting out passages I should dictate. She never charged a fee, of course. But I would easily have paid for her services. One of the best helping sessions, perhaps the most inspired, was Barbara’s doing a sort of charades to “Beowulf.” Yes, all those years ago, before the internet, and before that venerable classic had yet to be turned into a movie. It was such thick reading, I never dreamed it was possible to turn it into a movie!

Inspiration can never be rushed. It’s like they say, a watched pot never boils. But, once you relax, that’s when the creative juices start flowing. It’s as simple as three B’s: in Bed, on the Bus, or in the Bath. Those are three places that you find yourself off guard and ideas bubble up to the surface. I recall another story from my early years. I had a little studio apartment. I had undressed and was just about to jump into the shower when inspiration hit me. I had been feverishly trying to figure out the ending to a short story and, right then and there, I had it. I had the whole ending just dangling in front of me. I knew I could either think about it in the shower or I could rush to my typewriter. I chose to just sit down naked and start typing. It was actually pretty liberating. And, in no time at all, I had my story set down on paper! And there was a bonus to all this. The doorbell rang and I remember, just like an impulsive youth, I ran up and answered it without covering up a stitch. I had a very good guess as to who was at my door. It was my old pal, Barbara. She had never quite seen me in all my glory. I guess she was impressed. I know that we dated seriously for a while after that.

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