Tag Archives: Writers

Story: Photo Finish

Sprint finish: Dunaden (top) beats Red Cadeaux to win the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse (Photo: Reuters)

It has been some years since I’ve gone to the races. Here in Seattle, the racecourse to head to is Emerald Downs. I will be making a return to it on opening night, for the first live race of the season, which is set for April 8th. The race will kick off the 22nd season and it starts at 5 pm. There will be a fireworks show presented by Washington Cedar & Supply to follow. I will place my bet. And I sure hope to be counting my winnings followed by a good cocktail. Such is the plan. For now, I can share with you a story about horse racing.

Now, any sports bet is a highly sophisticated endeavor. Even if your betting is based upon a feeling in your gut. Most likely, you’ve done some sort of research and/or are following some reasoned logic. Maybe it’s just the fact that you always bet on your favorite team. Maybe your dog touched your sleeve and it was Wednesday, your lucky day. Whatever works for you.

How about horse racing? Now, that seems pretty exotic for some folks. You could rely upon the name of the horse for good luck. That’s a start. Following the odds is good. Researching is good. Add whatever extra sprinkle of good luck, and hope for the best.

Ah, then there’s the classic nail-biter of a race with a couple of horses neck and neck. It happens more often than you might think. The horses are out their giving it all they’ve got. They’re competitive in their own way. They’re in it to win it! There are no ties, only one winner. And the photo finish results can prove it down to the slight tilt of a nose.

But getting back to what happened to me. I was a young carefree guy with a bit of a swagger and attitude. This was back in my college days in Houston. We were at Sam Houston Race Park. And I decided that day to place a good healthy fat bet on a horse that caught my fancy for some reason. Hey, I’m no horse guy. I’ve never ridden on a horse. I don’t know that much about them one way or another. But I was there with a few guys and I was dating a girl who I wanted to impress. This was many years ago, mind you. And then the race began. They were off! Sweat was already rolling down by back as I took in the scene and my girlfriend gave my hand a squeeze.

Just like you’d expect, the race got tighter and the real contenders closed in towards the last leg of the track. It was a fierce competition. The horses, the four that had emerged as the finalists, were tearing down the course. It was literally a blur. The announcer rattled off the names of each so fast as to mimmick what we were all seeing. In those seconds I lost myself in the sensation of primal competition. What goes on in the mind of a horse?!

To this day, I don’t recall the exact details, mostly the blur and excitement. At that very moment, I let out the highest pitch shriek I have ever yelled. It sounded like a little girl screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs! It was horrible. The race, ultimately, was not quite as close as we thought it would be. Close but not photo finish close.

My girlfriend gave me a wink. “I’ll have to make sure you man up tonight!” Wow, such a crude remark, in retrospect. But, we were crazy kids. My horse, whatever it was called, had lost. But I had come out the winner after all.

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Filed under Emerald Downs, Essays, Horse racing, Seattle, Sports, Story, Storytelling

ECCC 2017 Panel Recap: Artists Who Write: The Craft and Creation of Comics

Dark Horse Comics panel on Artist/Writers

There is a special hybrid in the comics industry: the artist/writer. This is a combination of skills common enough in some circles (webcomics and indie graphic novels) but not so much in others (ongoing comic book series). That said, an artist/writer is also in a unique position for those projects where the roles of artist and writer are shared. Dark Horse Comics hosted an engaging and informative panel on this subject during Emerald City Comicon this last weekend that featured cartoonists Matt Kindt (Dept. H, Ether), Kristen Gudsnuk (Henchgirl, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls), and Adam Warren (Empowered). It was moderated by Patric Reynolds (Joe Golem).

ETHER by Matt Kindt and David Rubin

ETHER #5 by Matt Kindt and David Rubin. On Sale March 15.

Matt Kindt focused on ETHER, which he writes and David Rubin draws. Kindt is completely in love with all aspects of comics and continually finds ways to push the medium. But he is also quite appreciative when he teams up with an artist that is on a similar wavelength. “I can give David Rubin, say, a page with six panels and he can find a way to turn that into a 12-panel page.”

EMPOWERED by Adam Warren and Karla Diaz

EMPOWERED: Soldier of Love #2 by Adam Warren and Karla Diaz. On Sale March 22.

Adam Warren encouraged any aspiring cartoonists to not worry too much about a formal cartooning education. Warren said that, after he discovered manga, he was ultimately compelled to relearn comics after attending the Joe Kubert School that provided him with a traditional comics education.

HENCHGIRL by Kristen Gudsnuk.

HENCHGIRL TPB by Kristen Gudsnuk. On Sale March 29.

Kristen Gudsnuk stressed that she is self-taught. When she first developed her Henchgirl webcomic, she did not have to consider how to create the same comic for print. But, she did learn that she would not be able to continue drawing her comics on the subway. She redrew the first four issues of her print comic and went from there. A tip from Cliff Chiang really helped. He scans his pencils and prints them in nonphoto blue and uses that to ink on.

Whether the issues are technical or more general, a panel on the creation of comics has something for everyone. It definitely has the potential to inspire. And plenty to relate to. For instance, Matt Kindt admitted that he feels he is no longer qualified for any other job than being a cartoonist. He says he was never really good at being your typical office worker in a cubicle. But there was one bright spot. He worked out his schedule where he did his drawing from home and, while he was at “work” in the office, he would do his writing. For any aspiring cartoonist, finding a job that is so amenable to your dreams is nice work if you can get it.

For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Adam Warren, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, Kristen Gudsnuk, Matt Kindt, Seattle

ECCC 2017 Interview: Pénélope Bagieu and CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Illustrator and cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is like any gifted artist: curious, industrious, and someone who welcomes a good obsession. I say that in the best sense of having an obsession since artists need them to spur on their work. Bagieu followed her muse to the music legend Cass Elliot. You can read my review of her graphic novel, “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas,” published by First Second Books, right here. I had an opportunity to chat with Bagieu. We discuss her book, her thoughts on music, and what lies ahead.

We begin this video interview with my sharing with Pénélope my encountering the hit song and title of her book while I was having lunch. It seemed a bit uncanny to me. Pénélope did not exactly shrug off the observation but quickly acknowledged how ubiquitous that song is. And how powerful. It is every bit a work from the Sixties and yet totally co-exists in a timeless Neverland. Certain songs from that era aimed for such a vibe but precious few attained that quality. And so it was to be with Cass Elliot, one of the few to reach an ethereal and graceful immortality.

CALFORNIA DREAMIN' by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN’ by Pénélope Bagieu

Before we started rolling video, Pénélope was telling me about her visiting MoPOP here in Seattle. She said, if she could, she would live in that museum. That sort of sentiment won me over all the more. You can catch more of that thread in the interview when Pénélope responds to my asking her about the power of music.

What I would like to suggest to you is that, if you are going to Emerald City Comicon (and I’d love to hear from you about ECCC either on or off this blog) make sure to visit the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor and get yourself an advance copy of “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas.” For those of you not fortunate enough to visit, I highly recommend that you get a copy at your local comics shop, bookstore, or online.

exquisite-corpse-penelope-bagieu Pénélope Bagieu is an illustrator and cartoonist worthy of as big a reading audience as possible. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ is her second book to come out in an English language edition with First Second Books. Her first book was EXQUISITE CORPSE. Both of these titles, and others, originally were published in France by Gallimard. You can easily find EXQUISITE CORPSE online and I highly recommend that you do so. This is a 128-page full color hardcover. It is a sophisticated comedy about a young woman who becomes involved with an older man who happens to be a famous author. The question is whether she is in over her head or perhaps it is the other way around. There are a number of twists as the story builds. Bagieu has a keen sense of humor and wonderful timing. The main character of 22-year-old Zoe is full of life and quite memorable.

For more details on CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, visit MacMillan Publishers right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, Comics, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, European Comics, First Second, France, French Comics, Humor, Penelope Bagieu, Seattle

ECCC 2017: ‘Jane Eyre’ Reimagined By BOOM! Studios This Fall

JANE, AN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL

JANE, AN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL

You can trace back the selfie, or the elevation of self, to such works as Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre.” This is perhaps the best early example of a work elevating an average person, as opposed to an aristocrat or religious figure. That said, it makes total sense to explore the character of Jane, with a completely contemporary flair, in the upcoming graphic novel, JANE, published by BOOM! Studios, and due out this fall. As it makes its way to Emerald City Comicon in Seattle (March 2-5, 2017), BOOM! Studios wants you to know about JANE, from acclaimed screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Devil Wears Prada) and Eisner Award-winning illustrator Ramón K. Pérez (Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand).

Press release follows:

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Filed under Boom! Studios, Comics, Emerald City Comicon, graphic novels, Seattle

DVD Review: ‘Anomalisa’

Michael Stone (voice by David Thewlis) and Lisa Hesselman (voice by Jennifer Jason Leigh

Michael Stone (voice by David Thewlis) and Lisa Hesselman (voice by Jennifer Jason Leigh)

You go to Google and look up this disorder and you get, “The Fregoli delusion, or the delusion of doubles, a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise.” Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman liked that as a concept, became fascinated by it, and it led to his writing 2015’s “Anomalisa,” a stop-motion adult animated comedy-drama film directed and produced by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, based upon Kaufman’s 2005 play of the same name. I had read about it and had seen the trailer. I had rented it and then found myself with a quandary: I had lagged on my video viewing and was looking at a mounting rental fee. So, I sat down then and there and viewed it, a quite random thing to do but time quite well spent.

Everyone else (voices by Tom Noonan)

Everyone else (voices by Tom Noonan)

Similar to the main character, Michael Stone (voice by David Thewlis), I find the human comedy we all live in to often leave one scratching one’s head. Well, we all feel like that to some extent. But it’s when you get into specifics that we could be talking about a full blown existential crisis. This is what Michael Stone is going through. And maybe you’ve already gotten a chance to see the movie but, I must say, getting yours hands on a DVD or Blu-ray is well worth the effort. The extras are engaging: plenty of discussion on acting and production and plenty of Kaufman. That’s where I picked up the connection to the Fregoli delusion. It is at the Hotel Fregoli where our story takes place. And to hear Kaufman talk, as well as the rest of the creative team, this feature came close to never seeing the light of day many a time. The special stop-motion process nearly killed everyone with the expenses and sheer labor. But you wouldn’t have gotten this unique film without this grueling process. Sounds like a dilemma tailor-made for Charlie Kaufman.

"Anomalisa"

“Anomalisa”

You can say that this film is a perfect companion piece to Kaufman’s celebrated “Being John Malkovich,” from way back in 1999. It is very much a commentary on the absurdity of life up until proven different and, even then, there are still no guarantees on happiness. There’s more likely a guarantee on sadness than happiness, according to Kaufman. What gives our hero, Michael Stone, some hope is a connection he stumbles upon during a sales seminar where he is the featured speaker. He falls in love with Lisa, a call center representative (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). On the surface, Lisa seems basically average but Michael is taken with her quirky personality. For Michael, everyone else he encounters is literally a slight variation on the same theme. And here is where Tom Noonan comes in as the voice of every other conceivable character in the film besides Michael and Lisa. So, there you have it: a love story with that sardonic Kaufman vision.

“Anomalisa” will prove to be a most rewarding experience even if you don’t consider yourself necessarily a fan of stop-motion animation since this film does everything possible to subvert your expectations. You lose yourself in this story, root for the characters, all the time made aware that you are looking at essentially little puppets on a stage. But these are highly sophisticated maquettes with the eerie quality of evoking very human emotion while retaining their puppet quality. There are seams to each of the character’s faceplates that are left visible to drive the point home. And you can enjoy various other details to this animation process when you check out the extras section. It is certainly a film I would see again.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, Satire

Movie Review: ARRIVAL

arrival-movie-amy-adams-2016

What will it be like when they arrive? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again, from H.G. Wells to Steven Spielberg. What sets “Arrival” apart is that this new sci-fi film starts where most of these first contact stories end: this is a film about engaging with an alien race from some other world in some rather in depth terms. In the process, we humans may learn more about ourselves and the very nature of reality. It’s rare that a movie really hits me on such a visceral level. Part of it has to do with its steady and realistic pace. 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” set the standard. In recent years, we’ve seen a trend towards more contemplative sci-fi. In this case, it’s what the movie has to say about how we perceive reality. The aliens have got a much different take on that.

"Arrival" screenplay by Eric Heisserer

“Arrival” screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Director Denis Villeneuve is known for pulse-pounding thrillers with a quirky sense of style (Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy). For “Arrival,” the trick was to find the right balance of the theatrical with the compelling and cerebral quality of the original short story by Ted Chiang. I strongly encourage you to seek out Chiang’s story. You will find it to be quite moving with a different set of parameters at home on the printed page. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer succeeds in taking the beauty and nuance of Chiang’s work and finding something comparable in a Hollywood screenplay. Heisserer addresses every aspect of the original story. He amplifies the plot and adds action where it makes sense. Read my interview with Eric Heisserer right here.

"Stories of Your Life and Others" by Ted Chiang

“Stories of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang

Part of this story is about communicating and connecting. How do we do that? The answer lies somewhere in language. Amy Adams plays the role of an exceptional linguist, Dr. Louise Banks. She is assigned to crack the alien language. Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) is assigned to crack the alien math. And Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber) is there to monitor. There are many others behind the scenes. In fact, there are twelve of these massive alien pods that have landed on various spots across Earth. But our attention is mostly on these three main characters, and our eyes are especially on Louise.

Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks

Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks

By the time that Louise has been enlisted, the alien site in Montana has been joined by an organized U.S. government contingent. And initial contact has been established: a crew enter a portal and make their way to a screen that separates them from a couple of Cthulhu-like creatures. While incredibly strange-looking, they also seem benign. Louise’s breakthrough is to authentically reach out to them. In time, these “heptapods” emerge from the language barrier to reveal a whole other way of looking at reality. Amy Adams delivers an exquisite performance as the one person who really gets it, in the same spirit as the Richard Dreyfuss character, Roy Neary, in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

"Arrival," directed by Denis Villeneuve

“Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve

“Arrival” is one of those special gifts from Hollywood that are still very much possible. This movie ranks right up with 2014’s “Interstellar,” starring Matthew McConaughey, as Cooper, in a somewhat similar struggle involving a parent and a child. Eric Heisserer says that his screenplay pitch went through 100 rejections from producers before it was green-lit. Well, his persistence most certainly paid off. This is definitely the perfect holiday movie, date movie, perfect all-around movie.

“Arrival” went into wide release as of November 11th. Visit the official site right here.

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Filed under Eric Heisserer, Movie Reviews, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Screenwriting, writers, writing

Short Run 2016: The Big in the Small

Short Run 2016

Short Run 2016

I picked up some fine comics at Seattle’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. Short Run is one in a growing number of comic arts festivals in recent years in the spirit of the Small Press Expo (SPX) which was created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. The prime objective of SPX, and other comic arts festivals, is its main annual event, a place to showcase artists, writers and publishers primarily of comic art in its various forms to the general public. We are dealing here with a decidedly small demographic but a very important one. Short Run organizers Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh have done an admirable job of putting together a comic arts festival that resonates with this niche audience. They have found the big in the small.

Short Run Comix Fest 2016

Short Run Comix Fest 2016

This year’s Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center saw a steady flow of attendees. You could clearly see an impassioned interest for the hand-made. In spite of our jittery digital world, it seems that a lot of people are attracted to something more basic, something stapled or stitched together that’s printed on paper. And for the actual participants, the various writers, artists, and cartoonists at their tables, the sense of community alone is quite gratifying.

Here are a few nibbles of observations in no particular order. It was nice to stop by and chat with cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. He tells me that he’s thinking about having a new book out in the next year or so. Pat Moriarity has some similar plans. He sees a new book in the future as well as an animated treat down the line. I’ll see about letting folks know about it when it comes out. Pat, by the way, has created some of the most gorgeous prints through the Vera Project press. Noel Franklin has had quite a good year as she has the distinction of having won all three major grants in Seattle. Always good to see Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos. I had to pick up the new edition of Spaniel Rage, which won’t officially be out until February, from Drawn & Quarterly! Megan Kelso recently created a special collaboration with her 10-year-old daughter, Virginia, which is a lot of fun. While Short Run fell right on Halloween last year, this year it fell within the specter of the most crazed presidential election ever. I asked cartoonist and humorist extraordinaire Greg Stump for his thoughts. He said it felt like a perpetual loop where we never reach the actual day of the election as in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Betty Turbo's Portrait Machine!

Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine!

And, by the way, if you did go to Short Run, did you get your face drawn at Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine? Looks like a hoot. Visit Betty Turbo right here.

Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis

Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis

We’ll take a closer look at some of the comics I picked up this Saturday in the next few days. Some have a direct connection to Short Run and some don’t. In the end, it’s all about comics with that special touch. Call them comix, or call them alt-comics. They may appear at this or that comic arts fest or only online or even in an actual comic book shop. Whatever route you need to take, seek them out. And, if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit Short Run right here.

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Filed under Art, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, DIY, mini-comics, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Small Press Expo, SPX

Story: The Mascot

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," written by Frank L. Baum and illustrated by William Wallace Denslow

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by Frank L. Baum and illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, first published May 17, 1900.

It was during high school that I got the idea of trying out for the role of school mascot. This was years ago but that does not matter very much. The story itself is rather timeless. It could happen now or it could have happened, I don’t know, a hundred years ago. I was simply a fresh young and naive kid. It was my last year in high school but my first year at this new school. We constantly moved. My father didn’t think it was such a trauma to uproot us every few years. But that’s another story. This is more or less a sports story. Not exactly football and basketball, although that’s part of it, right? This is mostly a story about the sport of cheerleading. Yes, cheerleading is a sport. Fans of cheerleading are currently seeking an official sport status from the NCAA. Anyway, I did not really know what I was getting myself into when I decided to try out for school mascot.

We had a cool school mascot to rally around, a lion. Lucky for some lion, we did not feel any compulsion to keep a caged lion on campus. That was a different story in college. I went to a university were we actually had a caged cougar. I always liked cats…and lions. I loved the symbolism. I love all the variations on lion designs. I still want to get a lion tattoo someday. So, to get to be a lion seemed pretty awesome. Being a lion mascot would be serving some need I wasn’t fully aware of.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Cowardly Lion. Even with such a compromised character, Bert Lahr in the 1939 MGM classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” retained the energy of that noble animal, the king of all animals. To take on that sort of role spoke to my primal instinct! And then it all came down to a big reality check when I tried on the huge head mask, followed by the rest of the costume which was heavier and more cumbersome than I had ever imagined. How do you walk in this thing? I guess I didn’t exactly feel like I was running wild in the jungle. But I had to get my priorities straight and so I persevered.

When did I see my first lion? This is intergenerational. My father, and his father, and I saw the very same first lion! The Cowardly Lion from the original book, “The Wizard of Oz,” first published in 1900! Those distinctive illustrations by W.W. Denslow captivate any child, even today. Maybe you’d need to be a little patient and seek it out. But just toss aside all the digital clutter we subject ourselves to each and every day, quiet things down, slow things down, and you would have a child caught up in that magic all over again.

Back to my story, thanks to my being part of the journalism staff, I had a certain amount of authority. It was enough to convince Jamie, in charge of the cheer squad that year, to give me a hand. Tryouts were coming up soon. The mascot costume was currently in storage. She was more than happy to let me try it on for size. Better yet, she was all for guiding me through cheers and all the right moves. I followed her masterful instruction every step of the way. I started to feel like a lion—right before I wasn’t.

I wasn’t planning on doing anything fancy inside this big catsuit. I wasn’t going to be doing any cartwheels but that was okay. I had never done cartwheels before so why start now? Mostly, I sweated a ton. And then, I had a rude awakening. I discovered how much I was out of my element when I took an abrupt wrong turn and rolled on my ankle all the way to a major sprain!

What went wrong? Maybe I should never have gotten Jamie to give me a personal tour of the school mascot. Maybe if I’d properly trained. Maybe if I’d been part of a team. Well, all that theorizing could go out the window. What was done was done. I put myself in this situation. I ended up sprawled on the linoleum in a lion costume. But I had Jamie by my side.

Jamie was truly very attentive. What a godsend! I remember her pulling that stupid lion head off me. “Are you alright, Henry? Are you alright?” she kept asking. I pointed down to my giant lion paw feet. “Sprained ankle! Sprained ankle!” is what I kept saying. She looked like an angel, so beautiful and sympathetic. An impulse must have taken over and she passed her hand across my hot and sweaty face. “You poor thing,” she said. I could only close my eyes. I was mortified. I was happy too, all things considered. But I was definitely mortified.

Then she reached down and kissed my cheek. “Call me when you get better, tiger,” she said.

I perked up right away and absent-mindedly blurted out, “But I’m a lion!”

“No, you’re not,” said Jamie, “but that’s okay. I prefer men.”

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Filed under Humor, Sports, Story, Storytelling, Wizard of Oz

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.

“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Book Review: ‘Got to Kill Them All & Other Stories’ by Dennis Etchison

A Dennis Etchison femme fatale. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

A Dennis Etchison femme fatale. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

A femme fatale in a Dennis Etchison story is “twenty-nine going on forty, and pretty, too, but not really very.” She is the sort who would visit a Beverly Hills beauty salon. She is the sort who would have a C-note handy in her pocketbook.

“Got to Kill Them All & Other Stories,” an e-book collection you can find through Bowery Books, is a great mix of classic short stories. The first two stories alone are priceless as you have the earliest published Etchison short story, 1966’s “Sitting in the Corner, Whimpering Quietly,” followed by 1976’s “The Walking Man.” From these, I make my assertion on Etchison femme fatales.

Etchison deliberately takes the same description for his 1966 female character (twenty-nine going on forty with a C-note in her purse) and attaches it to his 1976 female character. It’s a grand little inside joke since he is certainly not at a loss for words. Doing that adds another eerie layer of alienation. It’s a brilliant move, especially for a writer who enjoys playing with disconnection.

Having recently posted a review of a collection of work by George Clayton Johnson, it is fitting to follow up with a review of one of the great Johnson protégés, a masterful writer in his own right, Dennis Etchison. We can even begin with a comparison of work between Johnson and Etchison. Both wrote stories with the freeway as a looming background character. In Johnson’s short story, the freeway is much like one big car bowling alley. You simply let the cars be towed along by the grid. If you happen to lose your way and pull over, you are lost.

In Etchison’s story, also set in the future, the freeway is also a vast wasteland but one that results in carnage at a much higher rate. In fact, the system in place demands it. Welcome to the world of Dennis Etchison where the edges can be sharp but that does not take away from the storytelling craft at play. I became aware of Dennis Etchison through my friendship with writer George Clayton Johnson. It was in 2014, during our last conversation in person, that George went over some writers I needed to visit or revisit if I hadn’t. Robert Sheckley for my sense of humor. Theodore Sturgeon for my soul-searching questions. And Dennis Etchison for my dark side. I did just that. In fact, I’ve posted about Sheckley here and Sturgeon here. And, now, Mr. Etchison.

“Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories” by Dennis Etchison

“Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories” by Dennis Etchison

Nightmare logic is at play here in a big way. Do you remember any of your best nightmares? Wasn’t there some lyrical quality about them that got under your skin? Think of the placement of seemingly random things that you know, down in your bones, actually belong together. Here it is, special delivery just for you: a transmission from the deepest recesses of your subconscious. It’s as if someone, or something, is trying to pass on an urgent message that never gets through during the daylight hours. The pounding at the door. There’s a reason for it. Well, I’m getting a bit carried away here. Chalk that up to my writer sense becoming all tingly just now. The point is that here we have this writer, Dennis Etchison, who masterfully crafts stories with the special edge of a nightmare. Consider, “The Scar.” I swear, that is one long nightmare narrative. That’s it! I really think I struck on something. We follow these characters in mid-flight. They are literally fleeing and it looks like they do a lot of that. The background, the landscape, it’s all a blur. For all we know, it’s an post-apocalyptic setting–or it just feels like that for this man and woman on the run with a child. The man and woman are unfit for normal society, total nihilist trash. Then things get really violent. Everyone falls down. Our characters get up and start running again. Truly a nightmare masterpiece!

“Got to Kill Them All & Other Stories” is certainly a title that will get your attention. It’s a delicate balancing act going on here between the brash and the subtle. There’s a lot of groundwork involved. Consider the title story, we begin with a classic Etchison main character, a hardened Los Angeles native: jaded, wired, and angry. I’ve been devouring Etchison short stories to the point where I feel I have a good handle on his dark vision. His characters are usually doomed and susceptible to entering into delusions and false hope. This is noir, extra-dark. With a writer of the caliber of Etchison, this can be quite a ride. So, regarding the title story, you have one very angry dude making all the wrong choices. The last thing he needs is a partner in crime. Ultimately, this leads to deadly disaster–with a grace note of macabre humor.

"Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories" by Dennis Etchison

“Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories” by Dennis Etchison

I’ll leave you with one more. This one involves another sad sack Everyman. Our poor anti-hero is literally just padding about his apartment when he gets a call that will seal his doom. Poor soul, he even lets his message machine pick up so he can monitor the call. But, it’s no use, the pull of fate is too great. The call is so compelling. It’s the voice of a little girl in panic. She is pleading for help. She mentions some landmarks before the line cuts out. The man has no choice, really, but to rescue the little girl. Which is actually the last thing he should be doing.

“Got to Kill Them All & Other Stories” is an excellent introduction to Dennis Etchison. There are numerous titles to choose from. I would definitely seek out more like “The Dark Country” and “Red Dreams.” You can find both of these titles at Crossroads Press. You really can’t go wrong with any Dennis Etchison title.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Dennis Etchison, George Clayton Johnson, Horror, Nightmares, writers, writing