The Empire State Building looms large over Alonzo.
“To finally have this collaboration between two giants available in a single volume is a gift for which we can only hope to be worthy.” — Howard Chaykin
Sometimes, a book is placed under my nose and I just can’t stop reading. So it is with Family Man, the crime noir graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and drawn by Joe Staton. This is a deluxe edition to the 1995 series by Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. This new 2019 edition is by It’s Alive and IDW Publishing. For a brief moment, both publishers were working together. What matters most is that this book packs a wallop, full of the grim and gritty underbelly of New York City that novelist Jerome Charyn knows so well. As is the case here at Comics Grinder, while we enjoy sharing images from books with you, we also don’t rely on it so much to the exclusion of thoughtful reviews. That said, let’s take a closer look at a book that well deserves it.
Alonzo pays his respects and kisses Don Furioso’s hand.
As a reviewer who also happens to be a cartoonist, I can tell you on an intimate level that this is a very special book. It’s a perfect pairing of writer and artist. Both Staton and Charyn are not holding back anything while also working as a team. Charyn is busy condensing his prose to the perfect concise distillation. Staton is busy letting loose with his highly expressive line ever mindful of disciplined efficiency and consistency. Both are being the artists they were born to be, both working on the same page. Take a look at the panel above. A whole story, a whole way of life, is held together in that one rectangle. Staton is depicting a connection between two brute men. Alonzo is the Mafia hitman showing respect. Don Furioso is the kingpin in decline who has been reduced to fretting over his colon.
Family Man page excerpt
We can see that Alonzo and the don are both past their prime and yet remain quite deadly creatures with no immediate plans to depart this earth. To that end, Alonzo the mob’s hitman, fixer, and “family man,” has been assigned the job of killing a band of rogue assassins who are bent on killing off all the Mafia dons in the city. It won’t be an easy task for Alonzo by any means. Add to the mix Charles, his own brother, the local Monsignor who works for the NYPD. If the killers don’t get him, Alonzo’s own brother just might.
Family Man page excerpt
Let’s take a moment to skip back to Joe Staton’s artwork. If you examine the above examples, you’ll start to focus in on the distinctive shades running throughout. Before everything went digital, artists had to be rather crafty about finding ways to create tones to spice up black & white line art. One way was with the use of a special bristol board that was embedded with shading inside the board. Applying a brush that had been dipped into a special solution would reveal the shading hidden within the board. What tones ended up making it to the surface were dependent upon the artist’s choice of brushstrokes. It’s my guess that Staton had a hefty stockpile of Duotone board at his disposal. By the early ’90s, around the time of the creation of this graphic novel, this old-fashioned board was pretty much already extinct. Staton probably had hoarded more than enough of this board going back decades. The results are stunning, of course, and it would take some doing to even try to come close to emulating it in Photoshop. Staton has a clean sharp style to begin with so this special shading technique was really just an option, an option that he makes the most of in this book.
Greetings from the Bronx Boys
With Family Man, Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton create their very own crime noir mythos. Alonzo, the mob hitman, and Charles, his monsignor brother, have numerous tales to tell and to act out. The setting, the mood, and the attitude all add up to an edgy good time. Joe Staton (Batman, Green Lantern) seems to channel the best of the work he’s done during his impressive career. He also seems to offer a tip of the hat to Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Jerome Charyn plays with various crime fiction tropes and brings in his unique sensibility as evidenced by his critically-acclaimed Isaac Seidel crime novel series. Alonzo is a “family man” in more ways than one. He used to be a true family man with a wife and kids. Later on, he became a family man to the mob alone. And, to further frustrate and complicate matters, he finds himself in mortal conflict with his only remaining member of flesh and blood family, his brother, Charles, the man of god who is not what he seems. As Charyn and Staton drop each layer of the narrative into place, the reader becomes all the more invested in the outcome.
Family Man page excerpt
A satisfying narrative, whatever the medium, is made up of a finely spun web of action, deliberation, long and short pauses, and a resolution that resonates, perhaps even transcends. It’s a matter of a myriad of creative choices and observations, big and small. Bit by bit, it all comes into focus: Alonzo, our big hefty protagonist, seems up to any challenge given enough time to digest a hoagie. Something about a certain metropolis is forever swirling in the background, and creeping into the foreground. New York City welcomes everyone but it coddles no one. Better to be tough, tough it out. A flamboyant so-called “man of god ‘ should wear a cloak or cape. And Alonzo better have a secret weapon. All the hoods eat hoagies too. Lastly, in the end, all the corruption, filth, mayhem, and blood lust tallies up. Maybe nobody gets the girl, like they used to in the movies. It’s all set “one hour into the future” with a crime-ridden New York City on her knees! But Alonzo will prevail, one way or another, and live or die as a “family man.”
Family Man, published by It’s Alive and IDW
I welcome everyone, especially my longtime readers, to check out the video review below. I invite you all to like, subscribe, do whatever you like to engage with, the Comics Grinder YouTube channel. Comics Grinder welcomes your support, as always, to help expand our reach and scope with your feedback and general goodwill! Take a look:
Family Man, by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton, is a 300-page hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit IDW Publishing right here.
A good crime story is about seeing all the elements in a set of circumstances falling into place one by one. “Hangman” fits the bill as it proves to be a competent thriller. This has Al Pacino, a personal favorite. The lead, however, edges a bit closer to Karl Urban, who commands the screen with a measured presence. There are enough chills and thrills to this for me to recommend it. I would not put it up there with anything iconic like, say, “Silence of the Lambs,” but it is well-crafted. I don’t especially seek out serial killer thrillers. I do understand their popularity so I remain open-minded to the genre. In this case, like the title suggests, this is a crowd-pleaser. And, for at least one particular scene, it did keep me on the edge of my seat.
Again, keep in mind that the great Al Pacino plays Ray Archer, a homicide detective here. Pacino brings some very compelling moments to this movie. His authority gives everything on the screen legitimacy. He makes the gritty that much more gritty. And he’s definitely a thoughtful and generous actor who brings out the best in his co-stars, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow. Urban plays Will Ruiney, the detective still grieving over the mysterious murder of his wife. Snow plays Christi Davies, the embedded reporter in what rapidly becomes the greatest case ever confronted by Archer and Ruiney. Pacino also inspires other key players: Sarah Shahi as Capt. Watson; Joe Anderson as Hangman; and Sloane Warren as Dr. Abby Westlin.
If you’re a fan of police procedurals, especially of the CSI variety, there is plenty to like here. I thought the scenes in the morgue were well above average. Sloane Warren steals the show as the coroner, Dr. Abby Westlin. She turns out to be an old pal of Archer who, by the way, has come out of retirement for this big case. It seems as if every bit of her background is put to use. There is another scene, as things are heating up, where Westlin’s skills of deduction lead everyone closer to finding the killer. And that is essential since this killer is killing people as casually as a game of hangman.
As an ensemble cast, Pacino, Urban, and Snow work quite well together. Their characters make sense and naturally grow as the plot develops. This is directed by Johnny Martin, with a script from Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger. It is currently available for viewing through Google. While this is not exactly going to put you in the holiday mood, it may hit the spot when seeking a change of pace in your movie viewing this month. Who knew “Krampus” would do so well, right? Think of this as sort of a “Krampus” crime thriller.
“The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Vol. 1: From Sherlock Holmes to A Clockwork Orange to Jo Nesbø”
Jerome Charyn, one of our great writers, known for his Isaac Sidel mystery series among many other works, has said that “all novels are crime novels.” It is an intriguing idea. You may as well take it a step further and say that all narrative, even the Bible, shares something with the genre. It is in that spirit that Russ Kick brings us the latest in his series of great works of fiction adapted into the comics medium. “The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery Volume 1” is published by Seven Stories Press.
This is a take on the crime & mystery genre that proves quite refreshing and a true eye-opener. Russ Kick, in the role of curator/editor, has taken an offbeat path in order to emphasize just how diverse and unpredictable his subject can be. Kick goes so far as to not include any adaptation of two of the most prominent names of all: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Perhaps he’s saving them for another volume. As a cartoonist myself, I would find those two irresistible for adaptation. But I also appreciate that Kick is playing with a delicate balance of mixing the familiar with surprising elements. Take the cover image. What on earth is going on there? A woman has been left tied up to a bed as a man creeps upstairs. Kick manages to keep just the right unsettling vibe running throughout this impressive anthology.
Good crime fiction keeps you on your toes. You are not supposed to be on solid ground. You are supposed to expect the unexpected. To set the mood, as well as provide the necessary framework, Kick has done away with chronology and has organized each adaptation within chapter categories: The Act; Criminals; Whodunit; Judgment; and Punishment. Take the judgment theme, for example. Within that one you have a story from the Bible, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” a story from Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” and Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Neither of these would seem to be an obvious fit. There are certainly no gumshoe detectives here. But there is undeniable intrigue, and each story revolves around a crime. It is in Hawthorne’s case that we have that persistent double layer of gloom that resonates with a contemporary reader.
Excerpt from “The Scarlet Letter”
One of my earliest reviews of comics was the work of Sophia Wiedeman. I am quite taken with her eerie and understated comics. It is very nice to see her adaptation here of “The Scarlett Letter.” Hawthorne, like Washington Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson, is a true master of early American psychological thrillers. Wiedeman’s adaptation evokes the chilling air surrounded by poker face Puritans hungry for self-righteous violence.
Excerpt from “Headhunters”
But you really cannot deny yourself altogether the grit, glamour, and style that is so inextricably linked to the crime & mystery genre. The one piece that really satisfies that “To Catch a Thief” vibe is an adaptation of “Headhunters” by Jo Nesbø. If the name is not familiar, then maybe you have not tuned into the crime fiction trend coming out of Scandinavia and known as “Scandicrime.” Who knew. I have tended to see Scandinavians as rather mellow sensible sorts. But, no, push come to shove, and ditch the lutefisk in favor of brass knuckles. For this piece, Jackie Roche adapts a tale of a man leading a double life: corporate headhunter by day; master cat burglar by night. Roche has a perfectly light touch that gives this story an added touch of class.
Excerpt from “In Cold Blood”
For something decidedly chilling, there is the adaptation by Emi Gennis of the Truman Capote masterpiece, “In Cold Blood.” Gennis is another cartoonist I have followed and always find interesting. For her piece, she lets much of the plot speak for itself with minimal dialogue. Her stark and space style gives it all a nice edge.
Excerpt from “The Postman Always Rings Twice”
Sarah Benkin does something similar with her adaptation of the James M. Cain all-time classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Benkin’s approach brings home the old adage of how the best laid plans of mice and men can fail miserably.
Excerpt from “Strangers on a Train”
And one more: it’s fun to see a piece by Megan Kelso that turns up the heat on her usually reserved and understated style with her adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” It’s as if a lot of things that often go unsaid in a Kelso story are forced up a bit to the surface. That said, Kelso conceals where she needs to and leaves the reader wondering in the spirit of any good mystery.
“The Graphic Canon of Crime & Mystery, Vol. 1” is a 352-page trade paperback, available as of November 21, 2017, and published by Seven Stories Press.
Jerome Charyn concludes his Isaac Sidel mystery series with the recently published “Winter Warning.” In this interview, we begin with discussing the crime fiction genre and quickly gravitate to the strange resemblance between Charyn’s President Sidel and our current American president. Both men are prone to go it alone in the extreme. Mr. Charyn has some choice words to share on his view of the current political landscape as well as the art that can emerge from troubled times
Henry Chamberlain: Would you share with us your thoughts on the American roots to crime fiction and how it was perhaps inevitable for you to make your own contribution to this genre?
Jerome Charyn: I’ve always felt that all novels are crime novels and I just didn’t realize it. Of course, my brother was a homicide detective. And, once I’d read Dashiell Hammett, after having read Hemingway and Faulkner, I began to feel that Hammett had invented a new kind of language: a poetry of crime. To some degree, Hemingway also wrote crime stories. There’s one called “Fifty Grand.” I was overwhelmed by Hammett and not so much by Chandler. Chandler was recognizable in terms of his literary qualities. But Hammett was a true original. We had never had another writer like him, an actual Pinkerton, who described what it was like in that world, and the craziness of that world really mirrors the craziness of the world we’re living in now.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this series, “Berlin Station.”
No, I haven’t.
You should. It’s excellent. It’s about a CIA station in Berlin. And it has the same kind of madness that you would find in my own fiction. So I was very happy to watch it. I think after the discovery of Hammett, and particularly his novel, “Red Harvest,” I felt that this was a world that I had to enter as fast as I could. Also, I had read Ross McDonald but after a while, his novels became repetitive whereas it was Hammett who had invented a new kind of language for the 20th century. And, it seems to me, he has never received the recognition he deserves.
Jerome Charyn, a kid from the Bronx.
You have a terrific hook in “Winter Warning” with a renegade president. What some readers may not be aware of is that you had already laid down the groundwork for Sidel’s political rise to power in the two previous Sidel novels, “Citizen Sidel” and “Under the Eye of God.” With the latest novel, “Winter Warning,” you have Sidel as an accidental president. And you find yourself with the added bonus of the current president.
I wrote this before the election of Trump and, like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate that Trump would win.
Is it a bonus or is it more of a distraction in a way?
It’s certainly not a distraction as much as a mirror, a crazy funhouse mirror of what is actually going on in the world today. There are many resemblances between Trump and Sidel. Republicans and Democrats hate them both. They both have to maneuver on their own. They both have a kind of poetry. Isaac is tenuous. And Trump is not. There are certain similarities: the sense of the maverick, the person who goes his own way.
I imagine you followed current political trends while tapping into timeless qualities of the contemporary American presidency.
I was particularly fascinated with the presidency after writing a novel about Lincoln. And I also wrote a novel about Teddy Roosevelt just as he’s about to become an accidental president after McKinley dies. So, it was very much on my mind as to how the office shapes the man and the man shapes the office—because, in some way, the American presidency will never be the same after Trump. Never. It can never go back to what it was.
It is a very sobering thought. The pieces on the geopolitical chessboard are being jostled with by Trump. With Obama, we had a good role model. With Trump, I think, we have some sort of throwback.
It’s not simply that he’s a throwback. We never realized before the powers that the president had. With the separation of powers, with the Supreme Court, with the Congress, there seemed to be some limits on his powers. But there are no limits. He does what he wants, when he wants, as he wants. He says what he wants. He retrieves what he says. He denies what he says.
And, also, we’ve never had a president who tweets. I mean, it is a kind of crazy poetry. One has to give him that particular credit. He stays up in the middle of the night and tweets his platform. We’ve never seen this. We don’t know how to deal with it. And, obviously, the Democrats, who should have won the election, are completely bewildered—and didn’t know what to do with him. And we still don’t know what to do with him.
I think there is a strange resemblance between “Winter Warning” and the current situation. As I said, I didn’t write it with Trump in mind.
East and West Berliners tear down a portion of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.
It’s interesting how the timeline for the Sidel series puts us in 1989, or an alternate 1989, I should say. In some ways, that was a more quiet time but the world is always changing and we are right on the cusp of the implosion of the Soviet Union.
Yes, as the so-called Soviet Union implodes, separates into separate nations; it is the end of the Cold War but it’s the beginning of a different kind of war. To some degree the secret agents that were in place, on both sides, remained in place even after the end of the Soviet Union, the coming down of the Berlin Wall, and so on. It’s very difficult to determine what is real and what is not real these days as we have a constant variation on the truth, or a constant multiplication of the truth. The truthful lie. I don’t know how else to describe it. Sidel isn’t like that. He’s a very moral person. But, remember, he’s killed his way to the top. He would never have gotten to where he is without his Glock.
I look at “Winter Warning” as a political thriller and a thinking person’s world-weary journey so, in that sense, Trump seems to me to be a distraction. He’s not in the equation to this novel and yet there is an undeniable connection.
He isn’t in the equation except that he is also a kind of accidental president. And Sidel has to go his own way because he’s so isolated in the White House. I particularly like the two trips he makes – to Prague and to Riker’s Island, where he tries to settle a war between the inmates and the guards. New York is still very much in the narrative frame. And everyone around him seems to want to kill him! (laughs)
“I Am Abraham” by Jerome Charyn
There are some presidents who will always lend themselves well to fiction. Lincoln stands out.
Lincoln is quite fascinating. I did a great deal of research on him for my novel. He really grew in the office. He had the prejudices of his own time. The presidency made him great and he made the presidency great. It was a strange evolution. When he talks about the better angels of our nature, there’s real poetry in what he wanted to say. He was our resident poet in the White House. I was hoping that Obama would be the same kind of poet but, in the end, he wasn’t. His speeches didn’t hold up in the same way. We don’t have a Gettysburg Address, which is overwhelming. It’s a kind of tone poem. Everyone was expecting Lincoln to give an hour speech and he spoke for four or five minutes.
Lincoln haunts Isaac Sidel’s White House because, of course, he haunts my own head. We will never see another man like him. I don’t think so. Teddy Roosevelt, in his own way, did a lot of great things but he wasn’t anywhere as poignant as Lincoln.
Of course, I wanted Isaac to be poignant. On the other hand, after completing forty years of work, I didn’t want to have a musical climax or crescendo. It’s just the end. His life can go on. It was the end of a jagged symphony. It was the last twisted movement.
I didn’t want to sum things up. But, on the other hand, I wanted him to end as a sitting president, to go all the way up the American ladder of success. He went from a deputy chief inspector to chief inspector to first deputy commissioner to police commissioner to mayor to vice president, although he never served as vice president. I did think of having him in that job (vice president) but it would have seemed a bit artificial to me. I wanted him to dig right into the dirt.
“Hard Apple” concept art by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka
Without having to give anything away, will the upcoming animated series, “Hard Apple,” based upon the Sidel books, (art by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka) be able to cover all the books?
Well, we will start with “Blue Eyes.” It takes several months to do one episode of animation. I would like it to follow Isaac Sidel’s career. I wouldn’t work on all the books but perhaps six or seven and have Sidel end up all alone in the White House.
Trump on North Korea
Do you think that Trump will make as satisfying a fictional villain as, say, Nixon? Or will people have soured so much on Trump that it will somehow not work?
One never knows. We’re living in such a strange time that I wouldn’t even want to make any kind of prediction. It would be very interesting to write about him just as a phenomenon because that’s all that one can say. He’s a kind of hurricane passing through the entire world. And we don’t know quite what to do. We don’t know how to be prepared for it. And yet, there he is.
If one were to deal with him fictionally, well, you must have seen Saturday Night Live. That’s probably the best fictional representation of him, with Alec Baldwin. I don’t think you can get any better than that. So maybe humor and parody are the way to deal with Trump. Anyway, the relationship between fiction and reality is so tenuous that one can’t anticipate what future writers will do in terms of Trump or how he will be treated.
For example, when we used to think about World War II, we had certain novels like “The Naked and the Dead” and “From Here to Eternity” and then suddenly in the Sixties, we had “Catch-22,” which was a completely different take on the war and the madness of war. It took a long time to re-envision what the nature of war was like.
We would never have thought of war in that particular way. And when Heller tried to do a a sequel, it didn’t really work. The original was too much a product of its own time. In other words, it was the Vietnam War superimposed upon World War II and that’s what made it so interesting.
I think it will take a very long time before we can fictionalize the world as it is unfolding today.
Trump on Distorting Democracy
For someone who seems so unintellectual, Trump does play the most devious mind games. There is his strategy of lying where he flips the lie and makes the accuser appear to be the liar—it’s a Russian technique.
He’s very shrewd in his own way. While Hillary was preparing for her victory at the Javits Center, he was out campaigning on the very last night. He was a man who stood there alone. Whether he believed he was going to win or not, we have no way of knowing. It’s not that easy to figure him out. Certainly, I think the tweets are brilliant. And when he uses the term, “Rocket Man,” for example, he does have a kind of poetry.
You were part of the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest in 1968 protesting against the Vietnam War. Do you think that today’s protests get the same kind of attention?
Well, it wasn’t exactly the way it sounds. What I did was help to educate people. I went door to door in California. I wasn’t trying to convince anyone about how they should feel about the war but just provide them with some history.
That is why I’m a little disappointed with the new Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam because it was a more complicated matter, with opposition coming from within the government, but those details got glossed over.
Johnson himself knew that we could never win the war. And we lost the war the first time American soldiers appeared on the ground. It was a very sad epic. And when you think of what we were able to do in World War II and how we rebuilt Europe. We brought these countries back into the world. So, it was a very different kind of strategy, the way Americans used power. And now, I haven’t got the slightest idea. For example, I wouldn’t be able to write about the current situation. But I did write a novel about the Vietnam War and felt comfortable doing it.
There are two films about the current situation, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that really capture the craziness in the world. You have these young American soldiers, who haven’t traveled much, and then find themselves in a world where they can’t read the signs or the signals.
What I found most interesting about Vietnam was the lingo that Americans produced. The way that they combined colloquial French and a sort of Broadway slang, to create a whole new language for Vietnam was extraordinary. But the war itself was never winnable, no matter what we did.
Franklin D. Roosevelt fishes with Winston Churchill at the presidential retreat Shangri-La (later called Camp David) outside Washington in May 1943.
All of the characters in “Winter Warning” are colorful and interesting. One that stands out for me is Ariel Moss, the former prime minister of Israel. As a kid, I remember paying attention to the Camp David Peace Accords so I know that Moss is inspired by Menachem Begin.
I didn’t want to use the name. I wanted to invent a Begin-like character and evoke the sadness he went through after his wife died. Then there’s Camp David. And I had fun researching the presidential helicopter service, Marine One. I knew that Camp David and Marine One were going to create the thrust for the novel. I read whatever I could about Marine One and the squad of pilots and how each president leaves his own stamp on Camp David.
Franklin Roosevelt first used Camp David as a retreat. Lincoln had his own summer retreat. He’d go to the Old Soldiers’ Home and then ride back to the White House. After writing about Lincoln embodying that world, it was a little bit easier for me to see Sidel in that same house in Lincoln’s shadow. There’s also the way Truman described the White House as the “little white jail.” All of those takes are interesting.
“War Cries Over Avenue C” by Jerome Charyn
Could you name any of the French and Broadway combinations of lingo that emerged from Vietnam?
I wrote a novel called, “War Cries Over Avenue C.” For instance, for “city,” they would use the word, “ville.” I would have to go back and look at the novel. Once I’m out of a world, it’s not easy to go back. It is lingo like you see coming out from this war. You have that in “The Hurt Locker,” just think of the terms themselves. “Black Sites.” “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Like I said, I think “Berlin Station” is very powerful. I think some of the best writing is being done in episodic television. The movies now are for twelve-year-olds. But, in terms of HBO, Amazon, and Netflix, we’re getting exciting options. Think back to “The Wire.” Did you ever see that?
HBO’s “The Wire”
I have yet to see it.
You should. “The Wire” is one of the very best. There are others. “Deadwood” is another one. A lot coming out of the BBC, like “The Singing Detective.” That was probably one of the most creative things I’ve seen on television. It’s the writer-producer who creates the show. In that sense, you can have some very good things as well as bad.
New editions of Sidel books in Germany.
As I wrap up, I just want to say that I enjoyed “Winter Warning” very much and I am going back to read the other books. I am currently enjoying “Marilyn The Wild.”
The series, at the beginning, was very different. It evolved as I evolved as a writer. You never think that you’ll finish all twelve. I consider them three quartets. The only reason I was able to complete the Sidel books is because my editor/publisher at Liveright, Bob Weil, spent a long time on each draft. I’d be working on the Sidel books while he was working on Lincoln, or the book on Emily Dickinson. I had a strange surreal time between novels, trying to keep the distinct voices inside my head.
What I like best about the Sidel books is that you can read any title without knowing anything about the others. It will enrich the experience if you do read the others but each stands alone.
In Germany, they have been republishing each of the Sidel books with a photo of me on the cover that coincides with the time I wrote each book. It’s an interesting idea.
The main thing is that you want to keep working as a writer. I feel that we’re living in a time that is hostile to the writer. You have to have an inner resource to sustain yourself. Writing was something I always wanted to do from the time I finished high school. I never thought in terms of failure or success. I just thought in terms of how to sustain myself. I was very lucky, as my generation was the first that welcomed creative writers to teach at the universities. It had never been the case before. And then I stopped teaching and moved to Paris. And soon I began to teach there. I started a film department at the American University in Paris. As with anything, you also need a tremendous amount of luck.
Four graphic novels by Jerome Charyn, available from Dover Publications.
Yes, luck and will power.
Well, you can have all the will power in the world but if you don’t have any kind of luck, then you defeat yourself. You need some kind of acknowledgement. The books I’ve written are there for people to read. Some of them may survive and some of them may not. One never knows.
Also, the graphic novels that I wrote are very important to me. I was the first American novelist in Europe to work with a French artist and then other French writers began doing it too. I grew up with comics, as you already know. We’ve talked about it.
You have so many portals that one can slip into. You have so many outlets for people to discover your work.
Well, if they take the time. The problem is you don’t have as much time to read anymore. Everything moves so quickly, but if you can take the time to read then you can take the time to discover.
When I went to college, reading was the central occupation of what we did as students. You didn’t do anything but read books. You were much better equipped to deal with the outside world having had these dialogues with writers, with having had Plato inside your head.
Today it’s more of a juggling act. A student’s attention is divided between reading and engaging with social media.
It is in social media where people do their discovering. And, going back to Trump, it’s with his tweets where he’s so brilliant. Maybe you need a child-like manner to do it. I don’t really know. But he has a sort of brilliance with his tweets that very few people have. (laughs)
It’s a very different world. And it has evolved very quickly. What place there will be for books, I don’t know. I don’t feel very optimistic about the future of books.
The art of rediscovering books: “Call It Sleep” by Henry Roth
I feel there are a lot of dedicated readers. My daughter, at 21, prefers to read in print. I like both print and digital equally. There’s a healthy community of readers out there.
It’s not a question of a lack of readers. It’s about the lack of venues for these readers. For example, it’s so much more expensive to put out a print book. When I first started writing, if a publisher liked your work, he knew that you’d have a library sale of between 1,500 to 2000 copies so that you could easily sell four or five thousand copies. That would be enough to do a second book and a third book.
But now the library sales have disappeared; the book clubs have disappeared; and the paperback houses have disappeared so the avenues for income are not there. The only avenue you have left is the translation of a book into a film—and that may be more prominent that it was before. Or a television series. One or the other. And that may be what rescues fiction.
As long as I still get pleasure from books, I will write them. There are fewer book reviews, fewer publishing outlets, so it’s hard to reach the reader.
I think people are reading as much as ever but what they’re reading, I don’t know. Also, someone has to make predictions based upon book reviews. If you look back at the last fifty to sixty years, most of those predictions have been wrong.
What seems to be wonderful isn’t so wonderful. I’m not talking about myself. I am talking about how books can come out of obscurity. For example, “Call it Sleep,” by Henry Roth. It was published in the ‘30s and disappeared. Then it was republished in the ‘60s and it was a phenomenal hit. These things do happen but they happen much less frequently.
That’s the same case with “The Great Gatsby.”
That’s absolutely true. Fitzgerald died at a very early age. He was only 44. He was completely forgotten. It was only because of Edmund Wilson’s essays in The New Yorker that he was revived as a writer. In his own lifetime, Fitzgerald had disappeared into the void, his fame all eaten up.
It’s odd which writers are recycled, which writers come back to haunt us, and which writers speak to us in our own generation.
Thank you, Jerome.
Thank you, Henry
You can listen to the podcast conversation by clicking below:
“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn
“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books. Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here.
Isaac Sidel, the president with a Glock. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Writers reach a point in their careers when they can spin gold from within just about any scenario. Jerome Charyn gives himself the perfect backdrop from which to play in his latest novel, “Winter Warning,” published by Pegasus Books. This is the White House. And, if you think Donald Trump is “disruptive,” then get a load of the Isaac Sidel administration: people get punched in the face and guns are fired into the ceiling on a slow day. Charyn makes the most of his opportunity to craft a climactic conclusion to his iconic Isaac Sidel mystery series. And, in the bargain, Charyn revels in speaking to the byzantine interconnections between American and Russian players.
Isaac Sidel, has gone from street cop to police commissioner, to mayor of New York City, to president of the United States. The timeline to the Charyn mystery series places the story in 1989 but, without a doubt, the narrative is every bit as relevant as if it were set in the present. Sidel is indeed a disruptive force. He is, by and large, an accidental president, a vice-presidnet thrust into the highest office after a political scandal. And Sidel is quite outspoken, beholden to neither major party. Where Trump leans to the right, Sidel leans to the left. Side’s liberal inclinations have more to do with a passion to help the oppressed than anything else. Given the chance as mayor, he released countless prisoners from Riker’s Island, victims of an unjust legal system. Our story heats up when Sidel’s more aggressive style attracts various rogue elements, including nefarious Swiss bankers and an erratic former Israeli prime minister.
“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn
Jerome Charyn is always a pleasure to read as you cannot help but get wrapped up in the story and find yourself rewarded at every turn. Here is a taste of a story with hints of the supernatural. In this excerpt, Sidel is questioning Pesh Olinov, a Russian operative, about a Russian criminal syndicate determined to make contact with him:
“And that greeting card is some kind of a threat?”
Olinov appraised the portrait of Isaac with an ice pick piercing his left eye.
“I don’t think so. They consider you a werewolf, like themselves. And that’s a mark of respect. Perhaps they would like to meet with you—the presidency means nothing to them. It’s not your power that interests the besprizornye. In their eyes you have none. Perhaps it is a real winter warning, and they are telling you to be more careful with your steps. The Secret Service cannot protect you with their magnetometers, my friend.”
Isaac Sidel is the president who packs a Glock. As much gritty crime story as political fable, “Winter Warning” takes the reader on a mesmerizing journey. This is the story of an American president who prefers to hide in an office he’s set up in the White House attic. That attic becomes home to a makeshift kitchen cabinet and a haven for various rogue elements. But Sidel, as always, is also a man of action. Charyn keeps this president on the run.
Charyn has a delicious way of hinting at what lies ahead and then, like a panther, hits his mark and pounces on his prey. The pace to this narrative is quick and steady allowing Charyn to conjure up elaborate scenes, deliver on his promise, and quickly sneak out the backway. Charyn is a master at creating a rhythmic pattern. We return throughout to an image of a man with a Glock, a man confronting werewolves, and the realization that he is a werewolf himself. This is not a horror story with werewolf tropes. These werewolves symbolize a certain dark and independent spirit. Sidel is indeed a werewolf. He knew it all along. He just needed an opportunity to prove it to others and confirm it to himself. With a target on his back, and nearly no one to trust, Sidel will need strength from any source he can find. This is a riveting mystery with a hard-boiled edge and worldly charm.
“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books.
Think of Maggy Garrisson as a more gritty Bridget Jones–dealing with crime noir misadventures. The first book in a graphic novel series sets up a rollicking good time with our main character, Maggy, stumbling into a career as a private detective. That’s pretty remarkable considering she wan’t doing anything in particular prior to her new more challenging situation. The first book in the series in entitled, “Maggy Garrisson: Give Us a Smile, Maggy,” originally published by Dupuis, in Belgium, and now available in an English translation as a digital comic at izneo right here.
On the job.
Written by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Stéphane Oiry, this crime comedy series is sure to please just about any reader. Trondheim is a legendary cartoonist, both as an artist and writer. Stéphane Oiry is best known for his collaboration with the cartoonist, “Trap,” in bringing back the classic comic strip, “Les Feet Nickelés,” originally created in 1908 by Louis Forton.
A day in the life of Maggy Garrisson.
Maggy Garrisson proves to be a perfect anti-hero in her own way. She seems to only attract grifters and drifters into her life. But she is determined to get a better life or, at least, she really hopes for the best. She is not an ambitious sort. Trondheim and Oiry play up Maggy’s shortcomings for all they’re worth. As Maggy becomes more entangled in what could add up to some fairly sinister activities, the reader will be thoroughly amused. Drawn with a light touch and attention to detail, Maggy moves about a vivid and animated world.
No detail is too small.
This first book is 50 pages in full color and available as a digital comic at izneo.
There’s a lot of thought and care that goes into a solid work of comics but the results should be magical for the reader. Within the multi-layered world of independent cartoonists there is a fair amount of intrigue mixed in with camaraderie. Creators can get lost in a fog of competing interests. The answer is to find your way and simply pursue your vision. Cartoonist Craig Johnson II has tapped a significant vein of New York City history to create a comic both purposeful and entertaining. THE LEGEND OF PINKY, an ongoing series ultimately to be a graphic novel, published by Carbon Age Comics, is set in the early years of gangsters (1920s to 1930s), specifically involving the interconnections between Jewish and African American players.
Harlem’s uneasy friendship with Pinky.
The main character is Irving “Pinky” Horwitz, a lean and mean trained killer in the Goldman gang. He is an exceptional assassin, when he bothers to do his job. Pinky’s biggest flaw is an utter lack of discipline. If there is a chance for him to feed his lust and ego, he will take it. And his favorite place to do that is Harlem. In that arena, reckless young women jump into bed with him and skeptical young men sometimes push back and sometimes accept him. With Pinky, and those in his orbit, Johnson has created one of the most fascinating comics currently available.
Pinky and his mom.
The story begins with a pivotal moment gone wrong. Pinky was supposed to report for an important mob hit of two rivals. Instead, he was in bed with his latest conquest. Meanwhile, Sam, his partner, attempted the complete the two-man job by himself but was only able to kill one of the two men. And so begins the conflict that demands resolution in the first issue of this comic. Pinky, no doubt, is due his comeuppance. But Pinky is not without some redeemable traits. Clearly, Pinky seeks approval. There are two women in particular that he cares about: his own mother; and Yetta, a union organizer of garment workers. He takes great delight in showing most people his disdain. But, for a select few, he values some connection, especially the friends he seems to have made in Harlem.
Pinky in his element.
I am often asked what it takes to create a graphic novel. Well, I like to add that this undertaking is, intrinsically (in the undertaking) and ideally (in the creator’s vision), a heroic work. And then I always say that a hero (or an anti-hero) is essential to the story. By and large, this is the model of the vast majority of successful graphic novels. Most of these works are biographies and borrow from history in one form or another. The fact is, to do this right, you don’t want to get bogged down by the facts. This is a work of entertainment, not a meticulous history. Johnson is spot on in how he incorporates history into the bigger picture of his narrative. Everything lifts off the page as we follow accessible characters and vivid action.
Graphic novels, when true to their original intent, are vivid works of sequential art that evoke the breadth of a prose novel within its own unique narrative structure. Johnson is sensitive to what is possible in the comics medium. He has done the legwork necessary to create a credible foundation as he goes about completing his full-length graphic novel. The artwork is dynamic and the pacing is compelling. Essentially, he has found something that can be quite daunting for many a cartoonist lost in a fog. Johnson has found something to care about. He is compelled to follow through on his vision. This first issue clearly demonstrates that.
Be sure to keep up with Craig Johnson II right here and THE LEGEND OF PINKY, and Carbon Age Comics, right here.
The story begins in New York City…one hour into the future. Crime runs rampant, rogue cops patrol the rubble-strewn streets, predatory gangs steal anything that isn’t nailed down, and the once powerful mafia dons cower in fear in their tenement prisons. Someone is killing the mob chieftains one by one, and the last survivors call on Alonzo, The Family Man, to hunt down the murderer. But it won’t be easy – not when Alonzo’s own brother Charles, the gun-toting Monsignor of the corruption-ridden New York City police department, is a prime suspect.
Full page of original art by Joe Staton
Jerome Charyn (The Magician’s Wife) is one of my favorite writers. He is a one-of-a-kind visionary. Charyn has worked with some of the best cartoonists in the world and his work with Joe Staton (Dick Tracy) is no exception. Take a look at the examples in this post and it will give you a taste of the hard-boiled, multi-layered tale that is FAMILY MAN. A Kickstarter campaign is on now thru May 21st in support of releasing, for the first time, a collected graphic novel of this classic work. Visit it right here.
Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton
This is a project that Mr. Charyn and Mr. Staton worked on in 1994, during the heyday of Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. Take a closer look at the artwork and marvel over the distinctive shading made possible with the Craft Tint duotone process. These special bristol boards were coated with shading underneath the surface. The artist exposed the shading as needed. Back in 1994, FAMILY MAN ended up as a three-part comic book series of 96-pages each. Thanks to IT’S ALIVE! Press, this stunning work of comics can now be given the best possible presentation as a graphic novel. That includes displaying each page as it originally appeared on the art board
Close-up view of Joe Staton artwork
I really can’t say enough about the remarkable talent of novelist Jerome Charyn. We will pursue that further in subsequent posts. What I’ll say now is that he was way ahead of his time, at least in American circles, by taking his literary skills to the comics medium. In Europe, for example, that has been well understood for decades. In America, we’ve had time to catch up. If you read a Charyn work in comics, you are treated to a vast world of intrigue with characters that will get under your skin. For FAMILY MAN, Charyn and Staton serve up a nice pulpy noir tale set in New York City “one hour into the future.” It is a story about two brothers on separate sides of the law caught in a dystopia they understand all too well and which will pit them in a bloody conflict.
It’s not too late to join in and reserve your copy of FAMILY MAN. This is a wonderful opportunity to own a shining example of comics at its best. Check out the Kickstarter and learn more about rewards, including original art by Joe Staton, right here.
Jules Feiffer tackles drawing a page of comics much in the way that a painter tackles a canvas. He gets in there with a muscular expressive line and then it’s all, wow, Feiffer has landed another punch, all with such graceful fluidity. You most likely know Jules Feiffer as the writer of one of your favorite books from childhood, 1961’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Well, Mr. Feiffer maintains quite an output of stories both drawn and written or strictly in prose. One of his most celebrated plays, and a favorite of mine, is the 1967 dark comedy, “Little Murders.”
I’ve always admired Feiffer’s work and his quirky style of drawing. When he said in an interview that he is only now mastering the art of drawing, I could understand the modesty. It was similar to Akira Kurosawa making a similar comment about filmmaking. Feiffer was adamant about it. Kurosawa was just as humble. Great artists are their own worst critics. Feiffer was saying this in regards to his entry into the world of graphic novels. With the recently released “Cousin Joseph,” Feiffer is midway through a noir trilogy with a spirited plot and a gritty vibe reminiscent of the work of Milton Caniff. I can assure you, the master is doing a fine job here.
Sam out on a job.
What you need to keep in mind about Feiffer is that he is equal parts writer and artist. Perhaps, if he had to choose, he would only be a writer. That’s just to say that his writing is of a caliber that it can certainly stand alone. However, the drawings cannot be denied. A graphic novel, at least a good one, results when the attraction between the words and images becomes so overwhelming that a union is inevitable, essential. That’s what I conclude from reading “Cousin Joseph.” I can see that Feiffer’s narrative is bubbling with ideas. Sometimes an extended prose passage needs proper venting. But, for the most part, this is a dance between word and image.
Calm before the storm.
Feiffer is an artist in his eighties in good health and still creating marvelous work. Much like his dear friend and fellow cartooning legend, Edward Sorel, he continues to gain strength and joy from his work. Cartoonists, like many other artists, tend to live long lives. Cartoonists, in particular, seem to have really got it figured out. But getting back to the book, the story makes for a great stand alone, no prior knowledge of the first volume is needed. The main character is Sam, a police detective who seems alright with skirting the law in favor of working for a mysterious client.
All in a day’s work.
The mysterious client that Sam works for is simply known as, “Cousin Joseph.” He has a murky agenda that Sam has never questioned. In fact, as far as Sam’s concerned, the big guy in the mansion was actually doing some good, instilling solid American values. It’s America in the 1930s. Bread lines blur into persistent threats of Communists lurking in the shadows. Somebody’s gotta do something, right? That notion seems to stick for a while. Gradually, it dawns on Sam that the big guy is not the patriot he makes out to be. Feiffer paints a compelling portrait of Sam, a man with his own dark side.
Another flawed character is Valerie, the teenaged daughter of the owner of a factory who is none too keen on unionizing. Valeries’s weakness is a sex addiction. She can’t help herself from preying upon any underage boy she can get her hands on. Later, she turns to any man who she can entice. While a little older than the boys she lures into her web, Valerie is nothing more than a child herself. She, and the boys, provide an opportunity for Feiffer to do what he does so well, to speak to the often betrayed and wounded heart of childhood. The story, as a whole, speaks to betrayed and wounded hearts everywhere.
‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ is a 128-page hardcover, black & white with tones, published by the Liveright imprint. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Co. right here.
One thing that you need to know about David Pepose is that he’s energetic and dedicated to his work. I know David from the time we both contributed to Newsarama. That was a good time. David was in New York and actually working at the home office. It was a full fledged job for him. He began as an intern at DC Comics, then came Newsarama, and other positions followed. All the while, David was considering what he wanted to do with his very own comics project. As he stated to me, “Writing is a skill that everyone has a chance at learning. In a lot of ways, it’s just like building a chair. You go out and do it.” Ultimately, what David did was create a noir mashup tribute to the work of Frank Miller and Bill Watterson. Okay, the “Calvin and Hobbes” influence is unmistakable. But just one page in, and the Dark Knight Miller influence is quite evident as well.
A subversive mashup!
Let’s take a look at the comic in question. The first issue of SPENCER & LOCKE is available at your local comics shop as of April 12th. What can you expect? Well, as I began to say, this is definitely a mashup of two distinct and very different sensibilities. Going back to that first page, I think it’s safe to say that it will be emotionally jarring for some loyal readers of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip. Here you have a similar little boy and his stuffed animal (alive and real companion only to him) but they are trapped in a dysfunctional hell! The mom in the Pepose comic book doesn’t cuddle up to her son at all. No, she smacks him across the room! That’s pretty subversive to say the least. It does get our attention, and deservedly so. Onto the very next page, and that little boy, Locke, is all grown up. So is his stuffed animal, Spencer, a very much alive blue panther, at least in Locke’s eyes.
On the case.
So, you get the conceit. Now, where does it go from there? Well, that’s the beauty of this comic. As David told me during our chat, this is a wonderful opportunity to deconstruct what is going on in a dynamic involving a person who relies upon an inanimate object for support. Our hero, Locke, is a young man who has chosen a career as a police detective. He’s got that hard-boiled swagger about him, a la Dashiell Hammett. And yet he also carries around a stuffed animal toy. It’s PTSD. Locke has got it bad. And it goes back to not having a mom who cuddled with him but, instead, smacked him across the room. It’s this experience that gives Locke a sixth sense about others who have been abused and actually helps him on his way to solving cases.
Something about gumshoes and greasy spoons.
The title of this arc is “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Maybe you can’t go home again. But why is it that the past can still come back and haunt you? Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Returning home? Nope. No way. Haunted by the past? Yeah, that one you get to play with whether you care to or not. And so it is in this comic. Locke is on a case that forces him in confront his past big time: the murder of Sophie Jenkins, his childhood sweetheart. You can’t get much more cruel in a mashup of Sin City with Calvin Hobbes!
David Pepose is our creator and writer for this four-issue comic book series published by Action Lab Entertainment. As David told me, he sees the role of the creator/writer as a leadership role. It’s up to him to keep the project moving forward and finding the best talent to jump on board. David is very excited about the creative team he has assembled. David says it was a long search to find just the right artist. Once he saw his portfolio, David knew he’d found the perfect match with Jorge Santiago Jr. Another long search finally led to just the right colorist, Jasen Smith. And, of course, a spot on letterer, Colin Bell, rounds out the team. Well worth the search indeed! Overall, readers will find this comic to be that something different they’ve been looking for: a tribute to comics in general and a solid story with compelling characters.