Tag Archives: Fiction

Interview: Jerome Charyn and the Art of Fiction in Prose and in Comics

Portrait of Jerome Charyn by Henry Chamberlain

Much is brewing for novelist Jerome Charyn and I imagine that’s always been the case. Currently, he has a new novel out, “Jerzy,” which tackles the controversial life of writer Jerzy Kosinski. The development of “Hard Apple,” an animated series based on Charyn’s Isaac Sidel crime novels, is on a fast-track. “Winter Warning,” perhaps the last installment of the Sidel novels comes out this October. And “Family Man,” a deluxe re-issue of Charyn’s collaboration with cartoonist Joe Staton will be available later this year, with a Kickstarter campaign in support of the IT’S ALIVE Press print run closing on May 21st.

For a writer steeped in the works of great literature, it is comic books and movies that influence his work as much as anything else. In 1986, “The Magician’s Wife,” a graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and illustrated by François Boucq, published by Casterman, won for Best Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. That is tantamount to winning an Academy Award for the comics industry. Mr. Charyn’s contribution, and subsequent collaborations, have significantly added to the developing art form that is the comics medium, specifically graphic novels.

We begin our conversation talking about character. In this case, the celebrated and controversial writer Jerzy Kosinski. At the end is a link to the podcast:

Jerzy Kosinski with David Letterman, 1984.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin with your recent novel, “Jerzy.” My thinking is that the life of Jerzy Kosinski fits in well with your work as you’re drawn to unusual characters seeking salvation.

JEROME CHARYN: When you look back at it historically, it almost seems like he didn’t exist. He seems like a made-up person. He led so many fictional lives. To me, it was very sad because the first two books he wrote, “The Painted Bird,” and his second novel, “Steps,” which is just as unusual, were works of genius. But, when he put on the mask of Jerzy Kosinski, in the other books, they’re no longer anywhere as interesting. They don’t have the same sad, hard touch. They’re made-up, invented. They’re not authentic.

“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn

“Steps” talks about his life after the war and how he lived. We have such a narrow glimpse into what it must have been like to live in a communist country after the war. And this is, you know, almost like Kafka. I mean, the world he describes in “Steps” is extraordinary. I found him to be a strange man. Very hard to deal with. But the early work was incredible.

You share a certain sensibility with Kosinski: a connection to Russia.

Yes, my mother was Russian. And I love the literature. There’s nothing like it. This is not to take anything away from American writers but when you go back to Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol, it’s almost like being caught in a landscape of illusions.

Lowes Paradise Theatre in the Bronx. “It was comics and movies. That was my education.”

Would you share with us your special connection to comics. You grew up in the Bronx with comics.

Yes, that’s why it’s not so strange to be involved in the whole aura of comic books. I’m about to embark upon an animated series based on my Isaac Sidel crime novels. People talk about the special role of storyboard artists. Well, I’m a storyboard artist in the sense that I can see the storyboard in my head. I grew up with comics. I learned how to read with comics.

As you wrote in one of your articles, I’m one of the first people to make the crossover from fiction to comics. I started out as an artist but I had no talent at all. So, I needed artists to work with. And I was lucky to find some of the very best artists while I was living in France. Had I not been living in France, it probably would never have happened.

A SUIVRE, a Franco-Belgian comics magazine published from February 1978 to December 1997 by the Casterman.

Your work in comics began with your connection to the comics magazine, A SUIVRE.

Yes, the title means to be continued. It was an extraordinary magazine. It lost its circulation, which can happen as you move from one generation of readers to the next. The magazine reviewed one of my novels. I was sent a copy of the issue with the review and I was exposed to some of the most extraordinary art: Tardi, Bilal, and José Muñoz, a master of black & white. I wrote a letter to the editor, Jean-Paul Mougin, a wonderful editor. I wrote to him about my desire to work with an artist. He found for me François Boucq, and we were able to collaborate on several graphic novels, including “The Magician’s Wife.”

When you were entering into this collaboration, were you at all thinking that you were about to a make your mark on this exciting and emerging comics art form or were you thinking more of it as an interesting experiment?

I would say it was both. To declare that I was making my mark would have been thinking too far ahead. I adored the work Boucq did. I remember working in television for the first time twenty-five years ago. And I recall thinking that I would love hearing the lines that I wrote for the pilot, adapted from one of my novels. And I didn’t love it at all. But when I saw the art that François Boucq did, I almost cried. He took a story that I wrote and interpreted it in his own way. The results felt totally personal. On television, the words each actor and actress spoke had no relation to me whatsoever. I was startled. I’d seen the rushes. I thought I would really enjoy it. It was dead to me.

Do you recall what televsion show that was?

Yes. It was an adaptation of “The Good Policeman.”

I wanted to build a little more on what you’ve said about comics, that it comes in and out of reality. And you’ve talked about how one can linger upon a panel. The framework of comics is unique, is magical.

Yes, it is magical. It has its own framework, like a house. It’s architecture. The panels are pieces of architecture. Also, you can move them around and shift the logic. You can possibly do that in a novel but it’s going to be difficult for the reader. You see how I do that in “Jerzy.” I shift the narrative, in a way. It seems to me, going back to Krazy Kat, you move from panel to panel and you’re in a different landscape. That, to me, was very exciting. In other words, there were no rules. You could tell the story in any way you wanted.

“Once Upon a Droshky” by Jerome Charyn. Cover art by Edward Sorel.

I wanted to chat with you about your first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” published in 1964. It has beautiful cover art by Edward Sorel.

I really love that cover. I’m disappointed that I never worked with him again. I chose one of my friends to do the cover for my next book. That was a mistake since you shouldn’t mix friendship with art.

Is there anything you can share with us about Edward Sorel–did you guys socialize?

I think I did meet him. I do adore the cover. I don’t know why he was chosen. He was a young man at the time. It is simply a wonderful cover as it fits the book perfectly. I was delighted to learn that you had just interviewed him. Not only that, we both have the same publisher, Liveright.

You guys should have coffee some time.

I hope so. I would love to meet him. I always wanted to be a writer and, when you see your first book, it doesn’t seem real. I’m holding it in my hand right now and it still doesn’t seem real!

You seem to have anticipated my next question. I wonder if you could give us a window into that time, at the height of the modern era. Sorel could create the Great American Illustration and you could create the Great American Novel.

“Great American Novel,” no, but it was a time when serious literature thrived. Hemingway was still alive. I believe, Faulkner was still alive. Literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something to the culture. In other words, when I went to Columbia College, we spent four years just reading books. So, one did not talk about the possibility of whether or not you might become a doctor or a lawyer. That was incidental to the idea of learning a way of life. And that has remained with me. The greatest gift I ever had was spending four years studying books. We had a colloquium of ten students and two professors. In the colloquium there was a student who would go on to win a Nobel Prize, another student who became a professor of philosophy at Harvard, etc. These were all very serious guys with a murderous intellect. And literature was a kind of religion. It’s difficult for me to speak about the current generation. But I know that, at that time, literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something.

It’s always been a relatively small group of serious readers. Literature used to mean more to the general public–we’ve lost that.

We’ve lost a lot. There are fewer book reviews and fewer bookshops. It’s the same thing that’s happened to the movies. They’re just remakes of superhero flicks and a few small films. The small has disappeared. It’s the mega-book. It’s the mega-bomb, you know. And that’s not the kind of art that I want to do.

There’s something that Marilyn Monroe said toward the end of her career, and it’s my credo. She said, “I don’t want to be rich. I want to be wonderful.” I feel the same way. I love Marilyn Monroe but she had no idea how to live her life. When she moved back to L.A., she didn’t know how to furnish her house. All she had was a bed and a lamp. It’s kind of sad but also poetic at the same time.

You have an amazing formal education. But, first, you had comic books and the movies. Do those two forces strongly influence your work, the magical realism that keeps popping up?

Yes. Remember, when you grow up with films, you have a visual sophistication that you don’t have in real life. I came from a very poor family. I remember going out with a girlfriend of mine. She came from a very aristocratic background. She was chastising me for not holding my knife the correct way. I seldom get angry. But I really exploded. I said that I lived all my life being told what to do and I didn’t want to be told how to eat. I didn’t have her table manners. I didn’t have her customs. I grew up like a kind of wolf.

But, on the other hand, I had this visual sophistication from a very early age. Joyce Carol Oates explained it to me. I thought that maybe I’d just seen so many movies. She said that maybe my brain was wired in a special way. In other words, I can distinctly remember the back of an actor’s head I had seen in a film thirty years ago. I don’t have to see the front of his face. That crazy visualization was imprinted in my brain.

There were no books in the house. It was comics and movies. That was my education. School didn’t give you much, just little things like how to spell.

“The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” by Jerome Charyn

What can you tell us about your debut novel. What led you to choose the subject behind “Once Upon a Droshky”?

My grandparents came from the Lower East Side. You have to remember, I’d never traveled. I’d never been anywhere. Even as a kid, I very rarely went into Manhattan. Even though I was sophisticated in terms of what I read, I could not, at that point, take what I read and turn it into what I wanted to write. I had to find a theme, or a group of characters that made sense to me. I remember walking around the streets where my grandparent lived on the Lower East Side. And I can still recall the Yiddish theaters—the marquees and the actors. So, in my first novel, I picked a Yiddish actor who is unemployed. And I was able to move into that world and find his voice. Voice is critical. Writing is music. There’s nothing else but the music.

I certainly enjoyed reading your first novel. I would encourage everyone to grab an existing copy while you still can. It would definitely make sense for this book to come back in a new edition.

That’s when you get into issues of commerce. At some point, things will either work out or not. I’m grateful that I was able to do it. Someone will ask me about how I wrote that novel. Well, I found the music for it. And, for a long time, while I was living in Europe, I’d lost the music. I really wasn’t able to write. I was only able to write about New York. I was able to write stories about New York but I wasn’t able to be more adventurous. Language is a gift that can disappear as quickly as it can reappear. It’s almost magical. You write in a dream. It’s really a dream state. I don’t know how artists draw. I can only tell you how I write. You’re writing in a dream.

Your body of work is breathtaking. When someone goes over the many titles and considers the quality of the work, it’s stunning. A recent example is “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.” I had not read that much of Dickinson prior to reading your book. But I have now. And your novel is quite beautiful.

Thank you. I like that book a lot. I was chastised for writing in a woman’s voice. I’d rediscovered Emily Dickinson rather late. I’d never read her letters before and they are just as extraordinary as her poems. I knew I wasn’t finished with her. So, I started “A Loaded Gun.” The wondrous fact is that she never wanted to publish her work. She was like Kafka in a way. She had a secret self that was very tough. People don’t recognize her toughness. And this is what I wanted to write about.

“Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories” by Jerome Charyn

I wanted to ask you about your story collection, “Bitter Bronx.” I would recommend that as a wonderful point of entry. I love the fable-like quality to the stories. They remind me, in a way, of J.D. Salinger.

I’m not a great admirer of “Catcher in the Rye.” But I love “The Nine Stories.” I read them in high school. There are three or four of those stories that can make you cry with sadness and delight. The important thing is a book that you can reread and still feel the same affection: Ernest Hemingway’s early stories, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Isaac Babel. The thing about “Bitter Bronx” is that I had to relearn the craft. My editor in France suggested that I write a collection of stories about the Bronx, and like Yankee Doodle, that became my quest.

I want to call attention to the four recent graphic novel re-issues, translated in English, by Dover Publications. Readers can follow up on my previous reviews for that. I also want to call attention to FAMILY MAN, a crime noir graphic novel that will receive a deluxe reprint from IT’S ALIVE Press led by Drew Ford.

We currently have a Kickstarter campaign for “Family Man.” Drew Ford has not received the recognition that he deserves. He is a shrewd editor and gets exactly what he’s looking for from a project.

Page from FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton

Tell us about “Family Man.”

Andy Helfer was the editor at DC Comics. I was interested in writing a Batman story but they had other ideas.

I’ll bet you could get your Batman story today.

Yes, but I’m no longer interested. Jeanette Kahn, president of DC Comics, was interested in one of my novels for a comics adaptation. At the time, in the very small printed format for “Family Man” in three stingy booklets, I didn’t like the art. However, when I finally saw the original art, I loved it.

The deluxe edition is faithful to all the duotone details of the original work.

Exactly.

My quirkiest question for you: You have these leather masks that all the trainees wear in “Billy Budd, KGB.” Where did you get those masks?

They just came from my head!

Well, they’re very arresting visuals!

Trump cartoon by François Boucq for Le Monde.

The thing is that Boucq is an extraordinary artist. When he focuses in on a subject, he gets extraordinary results. These days, he also does political cartoons for Le Monde. For “Billy Budd, KGB,” Boucq made certain changes in the story. Mine was more of a straightforward spy story. Boucq added in the Native American spiritual quality.

That reminds me of your Isaac Sidel stories. What can you tell us about the “Hard Apple” animated series based on your crime series?

We hope to get eight half hour narratives based on the first book, “Blue Eyes.” Then continue from book to book. I’ve done what they call the bible which is a summary of the characters. And soon I will be working on the pilot. I am excited about it. I didn’t realize how lyrical one could be in that animated format. The original idea, six or seven years ago, was to do a live action series. When we moved from that to animation, that’s really my country.

Then you have “Winter Warning” coming out.

Yes, the twelfth book in the series. It may be the last but at least we’ve completed the series. As you know, the main character ends up becoming president of the United States. He’s a Trump-like character. In his case, he’s a Trump of the left, rather than of the right.

Do you think that Donald Trump would make an interesting character to write about or are the people working for him more interesting?

I really don’t know. He’s a phenomenon we never thought would have happened, coming out of reality television. The country has changed so much that now a television star can become president and there will probably be other television star presidents. Say what you will about him, but he was able to speak to the American people in a way that the other candidate could not, except maybe Bernie Sanders.

I hope we may see a re-issue of “Panna Maria.”

Yes, everything in its time. If you shove to hard, you lose everything. You have to see it within its own sequence. If “Family Man” works, then everything else will work.

Things need time to breathe.

Yes. Right now, I’m working on a sequel to “Little Tulip.” I have a wonderful Belgian editor. And we’re at work on a graphic novel of Charlemagne.

It’s great how you rekindled your relationship with François Boucq.

That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.

That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.

And I look forward to the “Hard Apple” animated series. That’s being put together by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, who created art for the animated movie “Waltz With Bashir.” They’re twins. One does covers for The New Yorker. It’s going to be a wonderful animated series. It’s a chance to do something that’s never been done before.

It would be great to pick up the thread again sometime, especially leading up to the next, perhaps last, Isaac Sidel book.

As you can see the discussion is endless: the relationship between comics and novels, the whole notion of graphic art, the notion of narrative in every form, we could be talking for days.

Your book, “Movieland,” there’s an hour of conversation right there.

Exactly. You should pick up a copy of “Metropolis,” my book on New York, when you get a chance.

I will.

I really appreciate your interest. And we’ll talk again.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

“Winter Warning,” Book 12 in the Isaac Sidel crime novel series.

Click the link below to listen to the podcast interview right here.

Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here. And be sure to check out the FAMILY MAN graphic novel Kickstarter campaign, running thru May 21st, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Donald Trump, Fiction, Interviews, Jerome Charyn, Jerzy Kosinski, New York City

Book Review: ‘Jerzy: A Novel’ by Jerome Charyn

“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn

I have been reading a lot of work by Jerome Charyn lately. Once you start, it is hard to resist more. Charyn has this passion for seeking the truth that is very seductive. In the case of his latest novel, “Jerzy,” published this March by Bellevue Literary Press, he is compelled to better understand Jerzy Kosinski, author of the celebrated 1965 novel, “The Painted Bird.” It is a fascinating, and often funny, journey written by one of our greatest writers about the rise and fall of another great writer.

Actor Peter Sellers looms large over the book that follows the making of 1979’s “Being There,” the film adaptation of Kosinski’s novel, starring Sellers as the blank slate turned celebrity, Chauncey Gardiner. In Charyn’s novel, Sellers is not much more than a lost man-child, a blank slate in his own right. Sellers hires Ian, a former bodyguard with a taste for literature, to be his all-around wingman. If there is anything Sellers needs in the way of protection or advice on dinner conversation, Ian must step in.

It is not long before Sellers enlists Ian in his quest to have Kosinski agree to have Sellers star in the movie version of “Being There.” It is hardly a walk in the park as Kosinski detests Sellers. Sellers perpetually complicates matters. He is convinced that Princess Margaret fancies him and that he will marry her. And Kosinski is equally complicated. At the most random moments, something will trigger a dark mood and a longwinded rant.

As is made clear, the vacuous Sellers is tailor-made for the role of Chauncey. And Kosinski has very little to complain about, despite his tremendous resistance to Sellers. But the conflict in this novel is far more deep-seated and sinister. Charyn suggests that Sellers and Kosinski have paid too high a price for fame, have been reduced to mere shells of their former selves; and in Charyn’s hands, both become compelling tragi-comic figures.

It is Kosinski who stands in for a great deal of unresolved issues, including World War II and its aftermath. In his novel, “The Painted Bird,” Kosinski challenges the reader to confront great suffering and atrocities. For such a compelling testament, Kosinski would, over time, secure fame. For Charyn, Kosinski is that large-than-life enigmatic Citizen Kane. The harder they come, Charyn concludes, the harder they fall. Charyn plays with the mixed bag of rumors of plagiarism that haunted Kosinski. Today, in a different context, the same techniques of borrowing from other sources would not raise eyebrows. “The Painted Bird” was a novel, not a memoir. Truth is stranger than fiction. And, as Kosinski said himself, “I am a truth, not facts.”

Charyn seems to take Kosinski to task at every turn. He seems to make a mockery of tender scenes in “The Painted Bird” and recollections from Kosinski friends and associates. In Charyn’s novel, Kosinski, like the villagers in “The Painted Bird,” is fascinated to utter distraction with turning old tin cans into homemade flying rockets. Kosinski, also in Charyn’s novel, prefers to sleep inside a large dresser drawer. Kosinski explains that he’s made too many enemies and his life is constantly in danger. However, Charyn is sensitive to life’s contradictions, no matter what misinformation Kosinski detractors may spread. Such work as “The Painted Bird” speaks for itself. In the excerpt below from Charyn’s novel, Ian, the narrator, concludes that Kosinski did not have ghostwriters but those who helped him, up to a point, with his English:

No baby-sitter from here to Mars could have scratched out the icicle-covered sentences in “The Painted Bird.” And after rereading the book for the sixth or seventh time, I realized that suicide was built into its very fabric, as if the narrator were locked into some kind of frozen grief, and had survived the war on fierce will alone. His entire life had become a chess move or chapters pasted onto “The Painted Bird.” Perhaps fate itself was a Russian doll. And Jurek’s leap into the darkness was another matryoshka, a doll without end.

It was a great deal of bile and misinformation from Kosinski detractors that contributed to Kosinski’s suicide in 1991 at the age of 57. And perhaps it was also part of fate. Anyone familiar with the work of Jerome Charyn knows that he’s most interested in the underdog, the person trapped in a corner fighting to find a way out. As the novel progresses, we see how the life and times of Jerzy Kosinski, the truth and the legend, all add up to a subject worthy of Charyn’s fiction.

What Charyn’s novel can do, with its brilliant satirical bite, is compel readers to learn more about Jerzy Kosinski, one of the great writers of the 20th century. It’s as easy as surfing the net to learn more. If you watch the documentary below, for example, you get a multifaceted look at Kosinski, his life and his work. It’s not a simple story, as Charyn’s novel attests. Truth is stranger than fiction and fiction seeks a greater truth:

“Jerzy” is a 240-page paperback, published by Bellevue Literary Press. For more information, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Hollywood, Holocaust, Jerome Charyn, Jerzy Kosinski, writers, writing

Review: BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

Yuri and Stavrogin: It is a matter of trust.

In Herman Melville’s last novel, “Billy Budd,” we follow the fate of an orphan plucked from adversity and conscripted into the British Royal Navy. In the graphic novel by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, the lost little orphan is carted off into the service of the Soviet Union. Like Melville’s main character, there is something special about this boy. As we find in much of Charyn’s work, we have a protagonist of limited means compelled to honor his great potential. However, as we begin, we have only an emotionally stunted, ignorant lad with a hideous harelip. It is 1954. Stalin is in power. Yuri cannot resist all that is offered to him by the Soviets. In fact, he has no choice. “Billy Bud, KGB,” originally released in France in 1990, has recently been re-issued, with a new English translation by Jerome Charyn, by Dover Comics and Graphic Novels.

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

Mr. Charyn’s literary career began in America in 1964 with his first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” a story of underdogs fighting to remain in their tenement apartment. After 19 prose novels, including the Isaac Sidel crime noir series, Charyn decided to adapt one of his stories into a graphic novel. That led to more. It all began with 1987’s “The Magician’s Wife,” with artist François Boucq. They also collaborated on 2014’s “Little Tulip.” Another graphic novel by Charyn in a similar spirit is 1991’s “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” with artist Jacques de Loustal. All four of these stories have multi-layered plots, primarily set in New York City, and filled with offbeat characters.

Yuri encounters the spiritual realm.

Our main character, Yuri, seems to be a typical malleable cog but something burns inside him making him go astray. He is far too innocent and ignorant to be in command of his intuitive desire to rebel. All he knows is that there must be more to life than what his Soviet handlers are telling him. Luckily, Yuri stumbles into a friendship with an instructor that will inform the rest of his life. Comrade Grigori’s unique artistic skills and broad knowledge have made him an asset over the years at the KGB training camp. But that same treasure trove of knowledge makes him very dangerous to the Soviet agenda. As a tutor, mentor, and friend, he provides Yuri with a key to unlock his soul.

It’s not easy being a spy.

By fits and starts, Yuri emerges as material for a competent secret agent. The KGB arranges a few encounters with prostitutes in order to, in their view, make Yuri more worldly. And then he’s shipped off to America. His new identity, a knowing nod to Melville: William “Billy” Budd, the lost soul. It will be up to the newly minted Billy in New York City to struggle with his life’s purpose. Stavrogin plucked him out of a ditch and gave him a future. Grigori opened his eyes to life’s possibilities. And Red Eagle, a Native American mystic, may offer him the salvation he’s hungered for all along.

Yuri gains a deeper spiritual connection.

Both Charyn and Boucq work in such a synchronized and nuanced manner that was as rare a treat then as it is now. Such pairing can only happen when the time is right. Today, readers in America and in general, are far more receptive to this level of quality. While a unique challenge, some creators choose to control all aspects of their work alone. But, as this graphic novel collaboration makes clear, the results can be stunning when writer and artist work together. We can all thank novelist Jerome Charyn for being a true trailblazer in adding his unique literary talent to the pantheon of exemplary work in comics. This book is a mesmerizing story and comics of the first order.

BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

“Billy Bud, KGB” is a 144-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here. You can find it at Amazon right here.

Also note a Kickstarter campaign going on now thru May 21st for a deluxe reprint of FAMILY MAN, a collaboration between Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, François Boucq, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jerome Charyn, Russia, Soviet Union, Spies

Movie Preview: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS in Wide Release

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-mr-carey

“The Girl with All the Gifts,” a novel by M.R. Carey, caused quite a sensation when it was first published in 2014. I have read it and quickly found it to be inventive, something of a game changer to the zombie genre. Well, the movie adaptation became a smash hit in the UK when it was released in 2016. And now it invades its way to a wide release: on DirecTV January 26th and in select theaters and On Demand February 24th.

Kudos to Mike Carey for writing the screenplay to his novel!

Melanie (Sennia Nanua)

Melanie (Sennia Nanua)

The synopsis:

The near future: humanity has been all but destroyed by a fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied and subjected to cruel experiments. But one little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), stands out from the rest.

When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) and two other soldiers. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is directed by Colm McCarthy and written by Mike Carey. The distributor is Saban Films, Lionsgate. Visit the movie’s Facebook page right here.

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Filed under Horror, Horror Movies, movies, Zombies

Review: BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

If you are looking for a graphic novel that gives a quirky edge to the epic poem, Beowulf, then check out the all-new English translation of the graphic novel version. Originally published in Spain by Astiberri, this new edition is by Image Comics. Written by Santiago García and illustrated by David Rubín, this is a fresh and bloody take on the oldest surviving long poem in Old English (circa 1000 AD).

There’s that scene in Woody Allen’s 1977 masterpiece, “Annie Hall,” with Alvy talking to Annie about her English lit courses. He advises her to take anything but Beowulf. That was the common view on the prospect of reading the Viking epic in its original Old English. But attitudes evolve. An interest in Tolkien and such helps. Robert Zemeckis directed a pretty decent Beowulf movie in 2007. The fact is that Beowulf has influenced countless great works of fiction in numerous mediums. What is distinctive about this new graphic novel is how much it revels in the gritty and gruesome.

Beowulf makes his case.

Beowulf makes his case.

Our hero is the brave warrior, Beowulf. He’s on a quest to kill the monster known as Grendel, right? In that task, he succeeds. All seems well until he has to confront the wrath of Grendel’s mother–and beyond! If you’ve read this in high school or college, you know it’s pretty rough going for Beowulf. Santiago García’s script and David Rubín’s artwork mean to up the ante.

Grendel!

Grendel!

Consider the fight between Beowulf and Grendel. There’s definitely a contemporary sense of provocation here as Grendel is depicted as having a devilish zeal to inflict pain. In fact, he sexually assaults Beowulf. It is one of the most unusual scenes I’ve read in comics this year. Done with a certain level of restraint, you could possibly miss it if you were quickly scanning through pages.

Use of floating panels.

Use of floating panels.

This is an intelligent and imaginative adaptation. While not without a generous dose of blood and gore, the creators here aimed to tap into the power of the original work. The pacing of the narrative and the robust art make this a highly accessible read. There are interesting touches running throughout like the floating panels within panels offering various points of view and/or an inside look into a character. This has a thoroughly contemporary sensibility and decidedly provocative. Recommended for mature readers.

BEOWULF is a 200-page hardcover, in full color. Direct market release date is 12/21. Book market release date is 12/27. For more details and how to purchase, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Beowulf, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Image Comics, J.R.R. Tolkien

Interview: Bob Proehl and ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’

Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl

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

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

–Eleanor Henderson, author of “Ten Thousand Saints”

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

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

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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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: JANE TWO by Sean Patrick Flanery

JANE-TWO-SeanPatrickFlaneryjpg

“Jane Two,” a novel by Sean Patrick Flanery, is a quirky coming-of-age story with a zest for life that you’ll find contagious. Our main character, Mickey, never got over his first true love back in childhood. But, as he sees it, that is not tragic at all. His childhood experience has made him the man he was destined to be. With that in mind, Flanery makes the most of giving Mickey plenty of life lessons, some pretty outlandish but all quite entertaining.

Sean Patrick Flanery (photo credit John Schell)

Sean Patrick Flanery (photo credit John Schell)

There are numerous examples of excellent coming-of-age stories. I love all types, everything from Philip Roth’s novel, “Goodbye, Columbus,” to the classic TV series, “The Wonder Years.” I think Flanery’s work falls somewhere in the middle: fun and highly entertaining but also reaching to literary heights. Flanery is so insistent upon turning the young Jane, the object of Mickey’s infatuation, into a large-than-life force of nature that, at times, he elevates his writing to magic realism. It is a natural inclination. I have felt it in my own writing. But then you need to deliver and Flanery does.

There isn’t a familiar trope that Flanery is not ready to make his own. For instance, Mickey writes numerous love letters to Jane but he mails them to a pretend address. In his youthful logic, he believes that, if his notes were meant to reach his love, the postman will have figured out where to deliver them. It is a small Texas town, after all, maybe the postman could be bothered to be part-time matchmaker between the football player and the hippie painter with flowers in her hair.

Flanery’s most endearing contribution to the genre is Mickey’s grandfather who proves to be an endless source of wisdom. But, more than that, given his special stature in the community, this is a hero, role model, and mystic all rolled into one. A beloved retired deputy sheriff from Lake Charles, Louisiana could be nothing less than that. So, Mickey is definitely in good hands with his grandpa. There’s also grandma, and both parents, to count on. The only drawback is Mickey’s sister who harbors a serious dark side.

An important thing growing up in a small Texas town, some might say the only thing that matters, is football. Lucky for Mickey, he takes to it exceptionally well. It is there for him to help prove his manhood and sees him into adulthood. A child, boy or girl, is constantly searching and testing. For Mickey, the arena is a neighbor’s lawn and then a high school stadium. Grandpa is there to keep Mickey focused. He does this along with some other colorful characters who bring to mind the tough but sometimes shortsighted guys in Mike Judge’s animated series, “King of the Hill.” Ultimately, it is Grandpa who comes back to talk some sense and remind everyone that life is short and one best get on with it.

Like I say, Flanery is mindful of coming up with some doozies of his own for the young love genre. As the cover suggests, there is something unusual going on that might turn out to be pretty symbolic. And, sure enough, Flanery creates quite a memorable set of scenes involving a pair of sneakers strung up a flag pole. For one thing, it is not nearly as simple as it may look. By the time we are deep into what is going on, we know we’re reading something that is going to stick with us and we will return to. Just the right frame of mind to be in for such a story of everlasting love.

“Jane Two” is a 304-page hardcover, audio book, and e-book, published by Center Street, written by accomplished actor, director, and writer Sean Patrick Flanery, available as of April 5, 2016. For more details, visit Center Street right here.

And be sure to check out the official JANE TWO website right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Sean Patrick Flanery, writers, writing, Young Adult, Youth

Review: ‘Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey’

"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson

“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

The work of Richard Matheson (1926-2013) is certainly suitable for in-depth analysis. It is through an academic lens that you can plumb such insights as the one about the recurring nemesis in Matheson’s groundbreaking novel, “I Am Legend.” As Charles Hoge describes, in this first survey of its kind, the neighbor-turned-vampire who repeatedly taunts the protagonist is part of a literary tradition dating back hundreds of years. Instead of being hidden away in Bavarian castles, vampires were known to call out their victims from their own village. It is a simple distinction like that which Matheson runs with to create one of the most influential books in pop culture.

It was this seismic shift from monsters in castles to monsters in the suburbs that would change everything and influence everyone from George Romero to Stephen King. Yes, you can thank Richard Matheson for the zombie apocalypse. He essentially invented it with his 1954 horror novel, “I Am Legend.” Well, there’s more to it. And you can dig deeper in this first ever substantial study, “Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey,” edited by Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedicke, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

The original “I Am Legend” novel is an elegant and tightly written work. Our protagonist, Robert Neville, must figure out, with Sherlockian exactitude, what has brought about a world-wide pandemic of vampires. It is a prime example of work from the first phase of Matheson’s career. The theme here is man as victim of his own environment. By the time of Matheson’s work on the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone, his theme has broadened to man as victim of his own making. Within these two themes, a multitude of work can be examined. It is with this survey that we receive an essential collection of serious thought on a writer who Stephen King has ranked with Poe and Lovecraft.

In a piece that focuses on the noir character of The Twilight Zone, Cheyenne Mathews demonstrates both Matheson’s artistry and how well The Twilight Zone holds up to critical scrutiny. Cheyenne writes: “Through science fiction tropes of time travel, alternate realities, and new technologies, Matheson emphasizes the physical and social displacement that afflicted both men and women during the attempted postwar return to normality.” And, in describing what is considered the most noir Twilight Zone episode, “Night Call,” Mathews writes: “The second act of the episode conflates Elva’s personal anxieties with her social alienation, as she becomes increasingly disconnected from the other characters, who attempt to downplay her distress.” Of course, there is Matheson’s most celebrated TZ episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but, as Mathews makes clear, it is part of a bigger picture. Outside of Rod Serling, who wrote the majority of scripts, Matheson wrote the most episodes and they were all gems.

A man of his time, and ahead of his time, Richard Matheson has secured a place for himself within not only great science fiction, horror, and fantasy, but great fiction in general. Ultimately, Matheson’s work strikes a universal chord. We can explore the specific era he worked in and how he spoke to concerns of postwar paranoia and shifting gender roles; and, like Kafka, we can place him within some of the most eloquent writers on the human condition. Matheson was weary of being labeled a genre writer. Perhaps one of his fellow writers and friends, George Clayton Johnson, summed it up best when he said of Matheson that he was one of the “serious storytellers whose works were artful gems of wisdom fiction.”

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the origins of today’s pop culture at a deeper level and gaining a greater appreciation of the work of Richard Matheson.

Richard-Matheson-Twilight-Zone

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is a 262-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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Filed under fantasy, George Clayton Johnson, Horror, Richard Matheson, Rowman & Littlefield, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone