Tag Archives: Literature

Book Review: ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

We can all use a laugh and cartoonist John Atkinson has a unique way to provide that for you with his new book, “Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t.” This would make a great gift for Father’s Day or just about any occasion. Atkinson is known for his comic strip, “Wrong Hands,” where he distills things down to their hilarious essence. You have probably read his funnies in Time Magazine. Well, he takes no prisoners as he distills over a hundred works of literature down to a few mere words! Very funny stuff.

“The world of the one panel comics gag shares a lot in common with the world of stand-up comedy. Either the joke works or it doesn’t. Welcome to Wrong Hands, the world of John Atkinson, where jokes make impacts.” I said that as part of my introduction to an interview I did with John Atkinson five years ago. That was long before his gig with Time Magazine. I just happened to enjoy his ongoing work that all began, and continues to take place, on a blog at WordPress. I love that Atkinson keeps it all simple and real, down to maintaining his no frills free blog just like so many of us out here in the blogosphere.

There is a lot going on in Atkinson’s deceptively simple cartoons. There’s the joke, which can unpack in your mind on a deeper level. And there’s the pared-down art, free of ego-centric expressive lines. You end up with a very zen experience. Atkinson has a lot he wants to say in his work and the magic is in how he achieves the maximum impact with as little as possible. So, it makes total sense for Atkinson to tackle some of the most celebrated books–with hilarious results.

I highly recommend that you pick yourself up a copy. It’s a fun book that you’ll want to come back to. The little hardcover book has a nice look and feel to it. But, by all means, enjoy it on your phone too, especially since Atkinson’s format fits perfectly on any screen.

“Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t” is a 157-page full color hardcover, published by HarperCollins.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cartoons, Comics, Humor, John Atkinson

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Review: MOUNTHAVEN By B.P. Chamberlain, Jr.

Mounthaven-B-P-Chamberlain-Jr_2013

“Mounthaven” is the story of a man on a journey of self-discovery stymied by his own personal set of blinders. Those blinders prove to be a costly problem for him. He seems to be aware of them. He wants them off. He is certain he can see the blinders others wear. That alone is the stuff of novels. This is also the stuff of life which makes this biography, thinly veiled as fiction, all the more remarkable. Throughout the book, there is a narrator leading you through a family history intertwined with the family estate, Mounthaven. By the last third of the novel, it is revealed that the narrator is the main character. And the main character happens to be my father. If that’s not remarkable, at least in my world of reading, I don’t know what is. In fact, out in the world at large, this book should find many interested readers.

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Filed under American Civil War, Book Reviews, Books, History

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Unplugged

Here is a comic that attempts to tap into the elegant simplicity of the James Thurber short story. It is a delicate and precise little story: A henpecked husband daydreams he’s a hero while he goes about his mundane life. Two major motion pictures, in 1947 and in 2013, have taken this little story to great heights. This is a distillation of the original 1939 short story drawn in my take on the style of Thurber cartoons.

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The-Secret-Life-of-Walter-Mitty-Thurber-006

And there you have it, the whole story told in only six panels. I’d like to think that Mr. Thurber would have appreciated this tribute.

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Filed under Cartoons, Comics, James Thurber, The New Yorker, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Review: ‘Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York’ by Samuel R. Delany and Mia Wolff

Bread-Wine-Samuel-Delany-2013

“Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York” is a curiously disarming story about love. There is sex but there is also love. The matter-of-fact quality of this graphic novel reassures us in an offbeat and mysterious way. It is the story described by the great contemporary writer Samuel R. Delany and interpreted and drawn by fine artist Mia Wolff. Because this is a graphic novel we get a unique perspective on events. Ms. Wolff reveals some things left unsaid and emphasizes other things left understated. This 64-page hardcover book is now back in print, published by Fantagraphics Books which you can view here.

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Samuel R. Delany has been in the literary spotlight since the publication of his work, “The Jewels of Aptor,” in 1962, at age 20. Author, professor and literary critic, Mr. Delany’s work includes science fiction novels, memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society. This graphic novel, originally published in 1999, springs from a memoir and stands alone as engaging and insightful. Much has been written about Mr. Delany’s relationship with Dennis Rickett, a homeless man near Mr. Delany’s New York apartment on the Upper West Side. For such a celebrated author, who often writes on issues of class, one can only wonder what Mr. Delany was thinking as his relationship with Mr. Rickett blossomed. But, read carefully, and you’ll find some answers. The short answer is that it all boils down to honest affection.

For a book that promises an erotic tale, there are even more scenes that speak to the great divide between the two men which they will either struggle with or overcome. All signs appear to point to a relationship that continues to grow. We are free to give shape and meaning to our lives as we see fit. For this book, Mr. Delany weaves lines from the great German Romantic lyric poet, Friedrich Hölderlin. His poem, “Bread and Wine,” is freely quoted throughout. It is a poem about the inevitable failure of reconciling the classic past to the present. Perhaps it is there that Mr. Delany reveals himself most naked and raw. An appreciation for the finer points in life make the present all the sweeter. As written in “Bread & Wine,” towards the end of the poem: “Bread is a fruit of Earth, yet touched by the blessing of sunlight, from the thundering god issues the gladness of wine.”

Bread-and-Wine-Delany-Wolff

“Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York” is available now. Visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Memoir, New York City, Samuel R. Delany

Review: THE GRAPHIC CANON, VOLUME 3, Edited by Russ Kick

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Not all the work here is by cartoonists, per se, but most of it is and everyone here is part of the larger world of the graphic arts. We still live, may always live, in a world that, for the most part, thinks of cartoonists as only one thing. However, “The Graphic Canon,” edited by Russ Kick, and published by Seven Stories Press, gives you a taste of what is possible. You are certainly in capable hands with Russ Kick, bestselling author of “You a Are Being Lied To” and “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”

This is a remarkable project that takes on the world of literature on a grand scale with Volume 3 dedicated to the 20th Century. Ah, the 20th Century, it was a time dominated by the most heroic and romantic of rebels. You are sure to find your favorite rabble rouser in this colossal book, heroic in its own right. It weighs in at 564 pages, literally a phone book worth of literary artistic expression, so the odds are in your favor.

Like a classroom full of gifted children, each artist here has taken their chosen work of literature, immersed themselves in it, and turned in their best effort. Not all the contributions here are exclusive to this book but most are. And, like thoughtful and caring students, these artists don’t let ego get in the way or stray too far from the goal. They fall into two lines of attack: illustration and adaptation. Within these two camps, we get just about everything under the sun, an exciting array of talent, over 80 artists, that will please hardcore lit fans and newbies alike. Among previously published work, there is Robert Crumb’s rarely-seen adaptation of Sartre’s “Nausea.” Another gem is David Lasky‘s unique take on “Ulysses.” Reproduced here, you get the original 1993 mini-comic version.

"Ulysses," adapted by David Lasky

“Ulysses,” adapted by David Lasky

Check out the first pages of this book to find a homage to “Heart of Darkness.” Matt Kish is known for creating illustrations for each page of “Moby Dick.” Here you see him bring that same level of obsession to Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece. Reproduced are some selected illustrations with the promise from Kish will go on to fully illustrate “Darkness” page per page.

"Heart of Darkness" illustration by Matt Kish

“Heart of Darkness” illustration by Matt Kish

Ellen Lindner‘s illustration for “The Bell Jar” sums up in great measure the internal struggle that Sylvia Path attempted to endure.

"The Bell Jar" illustration by Ellen Linder

“The Bell Jar” illustration by Ellen Lindner

Tara Seibel provides some fanciful illustrations for “The Great Gatsby” that evoke the jazz age.

"The Great Gatsby" illustration by Tara Seibel

“The Great Gatsby” illustration by Tara Seibel

Among the adaptations, Julia Gfrörer gives us some very intriguing images inspired by Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum.” In the introduction, Russ Kick helps the casual reader to relate by jokingly suggesting that Umberto Eco’s masterwork is a much more complex version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Full of metaphysical and philosophical observation, it centers on three characters who work at a vanity press who concoct elaborate conspiracy theories and then discover that maybe they’re true. Julia Gfrörer is clearly up to the task.

"Foucault's Pendulum" adaptation by Julia Gfrörer

“Foucault’s Pendulum” adaptation by Julia Gfrörer

I think this unusual adaptation by Julia Gfrörer is a good place to linger since it goes a long way in representing the best you will find in this book. Gfrörer has taken on a wildly complex novel, found an opening, what she entitles, “The Chymical Wedding,” that explores the alchemical wedding in “Foucault’s Pendulum” and runs with it. This certainly doesn’t come across as Lit 101 filtered through comics. No, it does what you’d hope for: Gfrörer wears Umberto Eco like a well-worn pair of pajamas. Is that appropriate? If you don’t feel comfortable with what you’re doing, how will your reader? Gfrörer lets herself go and, without trying too hard, turns in her assignment. It’s just what editor Russ Kick would have expected.

This is the thing, there are any number of ways to go about your adaptation. “The Mowers,” by D.H. Lawrence, for example, is pretty straightforward and has a deft and gentle touch by Bishakh Som.

"The Mowers," adapted by Bishakh Som

“The Mowers,” adapted by Bishakh Som

Another ethereal and arresting approach comes from Caroline Picard with her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “The Voyage Out.”

"The Voyage Out," adapted by Caroline Picard

“The Voyage Out,” adapted by Caroline Picard

Emelie Östergren provides her heart-felt interpretation of “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs.

"Naked Lunch," adapted by Emelie Östergren

“Naked Lunch,” adapted by Emelie Östergren

“The Graphic Canon, Volume 3” is such a mighty undertaking that you just can’t go wrong. I come back to the idea of a powerful vehicle that demonstrates what’s possible. We’d be fools to think we’ve got literature and fiction all figured out. And we’d be fools to think we have the comics medium all figured out. It’s a post-postmodern world, but that’s no excuse. There is something very traditional about writing stories and creating comics and that’s quite alright.

Issues of storytelling will not be resolved in the 21st Century and never will be. If Russ Kick is around (gee, anything is possible), or maybe a descendent or disciple, we will find that Volume 4’s tribute to the 21st Century (available only digitally?) will continue the good fight for a good story. And we will find that all three volumes of “The Graphic Canon” have held up considerably well.

Visit Seven Stories Press here. You can also find “The Graphic Canon” by visiting Amazon here.

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Filed under 20th Century, Comics, Fiction, Graphic Novel Reviews, Illustration, Literature, Novels, Russ Kick, The Graphic Canon

Creative Living: Meredith Clark

Meredith-Clark-Residence

From Meredith Clark’s “Residence,” a collection of poems:

Leeds

The Inside pocket of his jacket.
Wool. The wind picked round
the owling boats. Found on the
wharf: a sheaf of black and white
landscapes, hand-tinted; flung in a
public place

Meredith Clark enjoys working with small spaces, merging image to words, finding deeper meaning. In the above excerpt, we have an ambiguous image attached to a locale and to a poem. It is part of a collection of such arrangements on postcards creating a mysterious travelogue.

If you live in Seattle, you may have seen Meredith Clark at one of her street performances where she dutifully sits with a typewriter awaiting requests for a poem. That is one aspect of what she does and she finds these actions fascinating. She is always pleased to learn what the poem means to the recipient. She recounts one instance where the person had quite a palpable experience to the poem she wrote for him. It reminded him of something that was not literally in the poem but had managed to be drawn out nonetheless.

What resides between the said and the unsaid it what poetry can excavate.

Portrait of Meredith Clark during our conversation.

Portrait of Meredith Clark during our conversation.

I met Meredith as a local coffee shop and we took the time to focus on the subject of creativity. What does it take to be creative? How can we all be creative? It was just a conversation with no expectations to find solutions.

For Meredith, creativity is a selective process, a matter of what to leave in and what to leave out. It was the study of photography that opened up the possibilities of writing. She had always seen herself as a writer but it wasn’t until graduate work that she truly saw how framing a subject for a photograph was analogous to the editing process in writing as well as finding a subject to write about in the first place. It is these considerations that have served her well ever since.

Conversation in a Café

Conversation in a Café

So, you want to write but what do you write about? That’s where that photography analogy is so helpful. You concentrate on what is in the frame. You write about that. Well, not literally. But that’s what you can play off of. It frees you up. You are no longer attempting to write some stereotypical version of the Great American Novel. Instead, you’re getting to write in a deeper way. We chat about experimental writers that have helped pave the way to free up writers, going back to Donald Barthelme and his integrating words and images to the more recent trailblazing by Mark Z. Danielewski. Meredith recalls with delight a recent visit to Seattle by Danielewski. One member of the audience gleefully said that, since reading him, she feels she can now write anything!

Not everyone feels compelled to express themselves. Then you consider that we are not a nation, let alone a planet, of readers. Literacy rates are abysmal. The reading public is a relatively select group compared with everyone else. It’s a formidable minority with massive purchasing power but a minority all the same. Is it any surprise that most people are not in touch with their creative side? It is seen as a luxury, as something you shed away with childhood. It doesn’t have to be that way. In some respects, people like Meredith are role models even if she doesn’t seek that out.

We talk about how the internet has changed everything. That reminds Meredith of being a substitute teacher for a high school English class. She appreciated that the students were preparing for exams and suggested to them that they write out on paper an outline to help organize their thoughts. The class stared at her blankly. One student said that no one writes with a pen and paper anymore. What else do students not do anymore? Meredith believes that no one bothers to edit themselves anymore. “The internet,” she says, “takes away the ability to be deeply impressed by anything.”

You simply cannot appreciate one subject, while you have numerous others on a screen, in the same meaningful way when your attention isn’t compromised. And an image on a screen, of course, is never going to replace the real thing.

Those of us who are creative people are most sensitive to the pitfalls, distractions, and unforeseen factors that can derail a creative life. Meredith recalls an English professor relating his story of early success, being published in The Paris Review at age 18. It took him a decade to get over it, to recover his bearings and be able to write again. Just think of it, suddenly that aspiring writer has landed a major book deal, and he has no need for his day job. However, once he’s abruptly untethered himself from his routine, he finds he can’t write. No one said life would be easy, even when it seems to have done just that.

Meredith is at work on a memoir. You can find Meredith Clark’s “Residence” collection here. And you also read Meredith’s poem, “Land,” here.

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Filed under Art, Books, Creative Living, Creativity, Meredith Clark, Poetry

Review: ‘Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland’

Huck-Finn-in-Underland-Alterna-Comics-2013

Alterna Comics presents for your consideration, the mini-series, “Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland.” It is written by Nikola Jajic, with art by Gabriel Peralta and Felipe Gaona, lettering by Peter Simeti, covers by Brian Level. It is 22 pages, full color, for all ages, issues are priced at $1.99. It is an excellent idea for a literary mashup. There is no need for prior reading of Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll or H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy this comic. For some readers, that may come as a disappoint but, for others, they will find this to meet expectations: you have here some weird and strange adventure.

This won’t blow your socks off if you were looking for stimulating literary comparisons. But maybe that’s not the point, really. It is meant for an all ages audience and, in that respect, it does well. And the comic is substantial enough where you can read into it whatever you like. For instance, you can say that Huck attracts the most foul and violent elements in an alternate world.

The inks and pencils by Gabriel Peralta are lively and keep things loose and moving right along. The colors by Felipe Gaona are nice and moody in places and more vibrant in others.

All things considered, this is fine little work and something you can enjoy as a mild amusement or share with the kids. When you think about it, this is a fine gateway to going on and reading works in literature. You can check it out at ComiXology here.

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Filed under Alice in Wonderland, Alterna Comics, Comics Reviews, Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

SOARING PENGUIN’S PETER PAN By Régis Loisel

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A Peter Pan book like you’ve never seen before. This is a sophisticated look for adults. And you’re getting a heads up now in the United States. This beautiful book will be available shortly in the UK and Europe: 30 May 2013. Currently, this book is only available in the UK and Europe. However, Soaring Penguin Press expect to be able to announce a North American edition later this year.
For retailers, keep the following information handy:

Peter Pan by Régis Loisel
Translated by Nicolas Rossert, with Paul Rafferty, Nora Goldberg & Cheryl Anderson
ISBN 9781908030078
Cover Price: £29.99
Publication Date: 30 May 2013
Format: 336 pages, full colour, hardcover
Rights: UK & European English Print Rights only
Available through Turnaround UK and Diamond Comics UK (Order code: MAY132444)

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PRESS RELEASE

Before he became Peter Pan, before his arrival to Neverland, he was a boy fighting for survival. Born into the suburbs of harsh, Dickensian London, to an alcoholic mother who leaves him in an almost-orphan state, Peter’s only retreat from reality is the fantastical stories given to him by a friendly neighbour — allowing him to escape temporarily from the darkness of the adult world.

Told in language as strong as his mother’s brandy, Peter’s story is no less intoxicating. While nearly devoid of comfort and compassion, Peter’s world becomes rich in magic. Lost fairies, pirates and sirens form a cast both shocking and strangely familiar — this is J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan story for an adult audience.

For the first time this six-volume bande dessinée series has been translated into English and collected in one hardcover, omnibus graphic novel. Through his emotive and engaging artwork, Loisel offers a unique take on a well-known tale that goes into a grim and dark world; the type of childhood where staying a child is not an option.

About the author: Régis Loisel is widely acknowledged as the first French author to have worked in the fantasy genre in recent decades, his style having become the standard for other European authors working in the genre. He is known best for his work on the best-selling series The Quest of the Time-Bird (La Quete de l’Oiseay du Temps) and his second series Peter Pan. Loisel has also worked with Disney on various animated films such as Mulan and Atlantis.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ENGLISH, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE UK, COLLECTING THE ENTIRE 6-VOLUME SERIES THAT’S SOLD OVER 1,000,000 COPIES WORLDWIDE

Visit Soaring Penguin Press at its website HERE and also visit at Facebook.

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Filed under Comics, European Comics, fantasy, graphic novels, Peter Pan, Régis Loisel, Soaring Penguin

The Return of AMAZING STORIES

First Issue of "Amazing Stories," April 1926

First Issue of “Amazing Stories,” April 1926

In some respects, the idea of “Amazing Stories” is more engaging than the actual publication. But that would be just looking at things too harshly, wouldn’t it? We are talking about science fiction and that requires a special sort of suspension of disbelief. It can be of the most sophisticated kind, mind you, since quality science fiction can hold its own with any literary form.

“Amazing Stories,” with its strange cover art, was fated to be a strange creature. While the publication had a history of uneven and inconsistent quality, such is human nature. It was a grand experiment and, through the years, it would reach its potential splendidly. Launched in April of 1926 by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing, it sought to combine entertainment with education. Sales fell short of expectations, and within a couple of years, the magazine was set on its checkered path going from one publisher to another. But it would see the greats of science fiction grace its pages, it had the distinction of being the first magazine of its kind, and it helped pave the way for what was to come in the brave new world of sci-fi. As a lasting testament to its pioneer publisher, the prestigous Hugo Awards carry his name and carry on the promise of a unique literary genre.

The new "Amazing Stories"

The new “Amazing Stories”

Comics Grinder salutes the return of “Amazing Stories” after an uncertain future. Steve Davidson has stepped in as the new publisher after the last publisher, Hasbro, allowed the trademarks to lapse. You can keep up with “Amazing Stories” at its blog. You will find there a most beautiful cover for the new issue by Frank Wu. This is his homage to the magazine’s original artist, Frank R. Paul.

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Filed under Amazing Stories, Entertainment, Magazines, pop culture, Publications, science fiction