Today, I want to share with you an interview I did with Kansas Public Radio. We discuss George Clayton Johnson’s unique role in science fiction and pop culture in my new book , George’s Run, published by Rutgers University Press. The show is Conversations, hosted by Dan Skinner. Listen to it here.
As I proceed down this path of being interviewed and explaining my process to different people on various formats, I find I keep connecting new dots. One recent eureka moment for me was simply contemplating the fact that The Twilight Zone has long since established itself in the canon of pop culture, and given the fact that George Clayton Johnson wrote some of the most iconic episodes of the show, that alone secures his legacy. In George’s unique case, he also happened to have been involved in other huge pop culture phenomena, including Ocean’s Eleven, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run.
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is published by Rutgers University Press and is available now.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
It is my pleasure to present to you my conversation with Ray Carcases on his YouTube channel. Just click the link to the video right below this paragraph. This time around it’s me who is being interviewed. We discuss my new book, George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone, published by Rutgers University Press. Ray is a kindred spirit and I am so lucky to have gotten this opportunity to chat with him. I look forward to pursuing more of these sorts of conversations with him in the future since he’s a thinker and an excellent conversationalist.
I’ll tell you right now and I’ll bring it up more as we continue to spread the word about George’s Run. I said it in so many words but maybe I didn’t come right out and say it in this interview. I really feel that I’m the ideal spokesperson to guide the reader along as we pursue several pop culture backstories. It’s folks like Ray and myself, from Generation X, that have a certain perspective and so much to share with each other and younger generations. And that doesn’t make me feel “old” at all. It just makes me feel like, as Ray expressed so eloquently, I’m in that group that “know enough to know.” You just don’t get it until you finally reach that point!
An old woman has fought with death a thousand times and has always won. But now she finds herself afraid to let a wounded policeman in her door for fear he is Mr. Death. Is he?
Ray and I got into a groove and built upon one observation after another. We marveled together over the cinematic elements to The Twilight Zone and how you need to appreciate them, “know enough to know,” in order to understand this most celebrated yet misunderstood pop culture phenomenon. I like one moment when Ray observed the quality of Rod Serling’s epilogue to the George Clayton Johnson masterpiece, “Nothing in the Dark.” Just as the scene comes to a close, that one final thought summing up the tension between fear and reason: “There was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on.”
Gladys Cooper stars as an old and dying woman named Wanda Dunn.
My new favorite place is the Duck Donuts in Virginia Beach I’ve been visiting lately. It’s a very friendly spot and these are first-class treats. It inspired me to write this poem. I might start posting more of these depending upon my mood . . .
There are donuts and then there are dontnuts.
One group will Do and the other will Dont.
Funny thing is that, either way, neither will stay.
The time has come to start spreading the news. My graphic novel, George’s Run, will be out soon. It is in the March edition of Previews, and you can find it here. The book will become available as of May 12, 2023, published by Rutgers University Press–and I could not be more thrilled. If you’ve ever set foot in a comics shop for any significant amount of time, then you’re aware of the monthly Diamond Comic Distributor Previews catalog. Each catalog provides previews of comics and graphic novels that will be available in the next couple of months. The issue for March, which comes out on February 22, features items scheduled to ship in May 2023 and will have my book in it. This is a big step towards getting the book out into the world! And, for a comics fan, it’s a huge big deal.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
George’s Run has been years in the making. If you’re one of my loyal followers, then you already know that this book is about the power of storytelling, a special blend of it going back to pulp fiction, especially science fiction. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way. For now, if you happen to visit your local comic shops, ask them to check out my book in the March Previews catalog and seriously consider ordering some copies of George’s Run. Your support means everything to me!
Here I am debuting a mini-comic version of George’s Run at Short Run!
An early color version of a page from the book.
I love the promotional material put together by Rutgers. It sums it all up quite nicely:
George Clayton Johnson was an up-and-coming short story writer who broke into Hollywood in a big way when he co-wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven. More legendary works followed, including Logan’s Run and classic scripts for shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. In the meantime, he forged friendships with some of the era’s most visionary science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling.
Later in life, Johnson befriended comics journalist and artist Henry Chamberlain, and the two had long chats about his amazing life and career. Now Chamberlain pays tribute to his late friend in the graphic novel George’s Run, which brings Johnson’s creative milieu to life in vividly illustrated color panels. The result feels less like reading a conventional biography and more like sitting in on an intimate conversation between friends as they recollect key moments in pop culture history, as well as the colorful band of writers described by Chamberlain as the “Rat Pack of Science Fiction.”
Here is more marketing material:
New Graphic Novel Traces the Origins of Pop Culture Through the Life of Eccentric Storyteller George Clayton Johnson
“George Clayton Johnson was one of the most brilliant and important writers of the 20th Century, creating classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, as well as co-authoring Logan’s Run and Ocean’s Eleven. George’s Run spectacularly and charmingly invites you on the amazing journey of his life and legacy, from 1929 through the Fifties and Sixties to 2015 and beyond. It’s a trip down Memory Lane via time machine and rocket ship—and it will definitely blow your mind!”
—Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion
George Clayton Johnson
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through the Twilight Zone (Rutgers University Press; May 12, 2023, 978-1-9788-3420-0; $24.95) is a mashup of gonzo journalism and whimsical storytelling with the overarching theme of how a group of writers influenced each other to create some of the greatest pop culture of all time. This is an exploration of self and creativity.
The reader follows cartoonist-journalist Henry Chamberlain as he seeks to reveal secrets and insights from a unicorn from a golden era. George Clayton Johnson was one of the greatest television writers of the 1960s. George showed up, as if out of nowhere, to command a significant place at the writer’s table for the original Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Co-writing the cult classic novel, Logan’s Run, was to be the cherry on top of a career that began, believe it or not, with George co-writing the story that was to become the original Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
Henry Chamberlain is a cartoonist, artist and writer living in Virginia Beach, originally from Seattle. Henry regularly writes about comics and pop culture on his blog, Comics Grinder. He writes for other venues, including The Comics Journal.
There’s that moment in Citizen Kane, after Kane has lost it all and he turns to Bernstein, his right-hand man, and Kane says, “If I hadn’t grown up wealthy, I could have been a great man.” It’s a wonderfully odd thing to realize that, if only you hadn’t been given everything in the world, you just might have amounted to something. That’s one way of reading it. In this case, the ultimate answer may, like so much in this film, remain a mystery.
AFTER FOUR ISSUES, KITCHEN TABLE MAGAZINE is leveling up—more pages, more stories, and more gorgeous art and photography—with #5: THE ROOTS ISSUE. And dig this groovy cover by the super talented artist and illustrator, Dorothy Siemens!
KITCHEN TABLE MAGAZINE: THE ROOTS ISSUE!
“Root Hog or Die!” Farmers down on their luck would yell that, along with a hope and prayer, confident that their pigs would find a way to survive. That’s the indie spirit! And so it is with this one tenacious publication, Kitchen Table magazine. Now, right now, is the time to lend a hand and keep this unique voice alive and well. Go to the campaign on Crowdfundr, ending on September 25th, and pitch in whatever you can.
From the campaign:
INSIDE THE ROOTS ISSUE
INSIDE THESE PAGES you’ll find stories, art, and ideas that explore the beautiful, flawed, and interconnected web of our food system, including:
A Black-owned BBQ enterprise that binds multiple generations
Reflections on the bittersweet nostalgia of Jell-O salads
Kitschy vintage cookies and red velvet skull cupcakes
A Mother’s Day gone awkwardly wrong
Sauce-makers answer Life’s mysterious questions
A Navajo food podcaster
Agriculture’s modern wave of intrepid and creative female farmers.
WHY WE NEED YOU
PRINT PUBLISHING HAS NEVER BEEN CHEAP. With the paradigm-shifting chaos that the covid has brought down upon us all—the disrupted supply chains; and everything from printing to shipping to bank fees costing more, plus 40 more pages [from 80 pages to 120 pages] for you to nosh on—we’ve had to raise the price of the magazine. We see no way to continue without doing so.
WHEN YOU BACK THE ROOTS ISSUE, you are joining the larger food community and helping us pay world-class creators, without whom KITCHEN TABLE doesn’t exist. And you’re also helping us shine a luminous light on the small farmers and independent producers, and the movers and shakers and doers and makers who make the food world turn—real people doing righteous things, in a time when we need more real people doing righteous things. People like Josh Winegarner, who produced our bitchin’ campaign video, and Kendl Winter who provided the music. (Thanks, Josh and Kendl.)
120 full-color pages, 7.5″ x 9.5″
Printed on luxurious matte paper stock
A coffee table keepsake
REWARDS: ALL YOU CAN EAT
WE HAVE SOME SERIOUSLY TASTY REWARDS. Read more on each Reward page.
KITCHEN TABLE #5: THE ROOTS ISSUE. The most coolest food magazine in the world. (Bold, right?!)
THE DIGITAL EDITION. For those who prefer to dine digitally.
FINE ART PRINTS. We have three of our favorite pieces of art from the issue available.
THE FULL MEAL DEAL. The first four issues, two of which are almost out of print.
THE SAUCE CLUB. Gift-packs of Portland’s tastiest sauces, in six Collections.
FOOD & LIBATIONS. Two stellar Portland-based spots offering an exceptional dining experience.
RETAILERS MATTER TOO. We’re offering a sweet package for our retail friends.
A CELEBRATION OF FOOD AND COMMUNITY
KITCHEN TABLE CONNECTS INQUISITIVE COOKS, enthusiastic eaters, and imaginative creators in a fresh and tasty publication that investigates not only the how-tos but the whys of eating. Through a mix of personal storytelling and delectable illustration and photography, our magazine endeavors to be an inclusive celebration of food and community.
WE ARE A VOICE FOR INCLUSIVE FOOD CULTURE, sustainability, our relationship with place, and our ability to be present in a world of digital distraction. Our contributors, our feature subjects, and our readers represent a wide range of age, race, nationality, and genders. Our contributors are overwhelmingly female, by a two-to-one margin, and we actively work with and fully support our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
THANK YOU! Your generosity is most appreciated. Visit it us!
Follow the link and you can see all the nominees for this year’s Small Press Expo, along with links to purchase. I believe this is the first time that links have been provided for direct purchase! Scroll below for a list of this year’s winners.
– Outstanding Comic: “I See A Knight” by Xulia Vicente (Shortbox). Since childhood, Olivia has been able to see a headless knight invisible to everyone else- is it an omen, a ghost, or something much more real?
Good Boy! magazine
– Outstanding Anthology: “Good Boy Magazine” #1, edited by Michael Sweater and Benji Nate (Silver Sprocket). This 112-page collection features the tagline “Read comics or go to hell.” That says it all!
– Outstanding Artist:Reimena Yee for “Alexander, The Servant, & The Water of Life,” a retelling of the life/legend of Alexander the Great. Yee is also the creator of numerous other comics, including the Eisner & McDuffie-nominated “The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya,” “Séance Tea Party,” and the upcoming “My Aunt is a Monster.”
– Outstanding Collection: “Mr. Boop” by Alec Robbins (Silver Sprocket). This is the complete collection of the absurdist and romantic tale of author Alec Robbins being in love with his wife Betty Boop, the 1930s cartoon superstar, presented in a beautiful, deluxe package.
No One Else
– Outstanding Graphic Novel: “No One Else” by R. Kikuo Johnson (Fantagraphics). Johnson’s long-awaited second graphic novel follows Charlene, Brandon, and Robbie as they learn to navigate life day to day with their plans, fears, and desires after a death throws their life into turmoil.
Pee Pee Poo Poo #69
– Outstanding Minicomic: “Pee Pee Poo Poo” #69 by Caroline Cash (self-published). A throwback to ’60s underground comics with a zesty title to boot.
Ride or Die
– Outstanding Online Comic: “Ride or Die” by Mars Heyward features demon cars, street racing, fumbling romance and revenge, and is described as “Christine meets Ghost Rider meets Fast and Furious but gayer!”
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
– Outstanding Series:“The Many Deaths of Laila Starr” by Ram V & Filipe Andrade with Inês Amaro and AndWorld Design (BOOM! Studios), a five-issue mini-series exploring the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
The Lover of Everyone in the World
– Outstanding Story: ‘The Lover of Everyone in the World’ by Beatrix Urkowitz (Parsifal Press). Originally drawn for Popula, ‘The Lover’ joins three other stories about being loved by everyone, and no one, in Urkowitz’s first graphic novella of the same name. The collection was possible thanks to a generous grant from Koyama Provides.
Djeliya by Juni Ba
– Promising New Talent:Juni Ba. A cartoonist from Senegal and France, Ba’s recent work includes the anthology series “Monkey Meat” (Image Comics) and “Djeliya” (TKO Studios), which tells the tale of Prince Mansour and his royal storyteller Awa, as they journey to reach the mysterious Wizard Soumaoro, who guards a fearsome power that he once used to destroy the world.
Krazy Kat’s Ignatz, namesake for the SPX Ignatz Award
Small Press Expo returns next year during the weekend of September 9 and 10, 2023.
Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available in the US as of 11/09/21.
Tenderness is a feast of a novel. This is easily one of the best current reads. And it all has to do with what once was an obscure novel nearly killed in the cradle. Many people have at least heard of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, originally published privately in 1928 and finally made available in 1960 after an infamous obscenity legal battle in the UK and the US. Oddly enough, even after surviving the courts, this most misunderstood of novels was nearly killed again in a self-imposed academic attempted murder by feminist scholars because of what they deemed as certain less than enlightened depictions of some female characters in the novel. It is a case of cancel culture from another era. Today, the novel has well cleared the hurdle of extinction. At this writing, Netflix is in production for a spectacular new film version starring Emma Corrin (The Crown) as Constance Chatterley. Now, back to the novel in question. Tenderness explores the world of Lady Chatterley primarily from the inner world of the author and the behind the scenes tug-of-war between killing and saving the book. This culture war is led by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on the side to suppress, and future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on the side to save.
1960: Lady C helps usher in the Sexual Revolution! Keystone/Getty Images
The hallmark of any great historical novel is how it juggles many points of view. One of the paths this novel cuts is political. Jackie Kennedy is a classic icon: familiar while shrouded in mystery. There is nothing officially documented about Jackie Kennedy in support of Lady Chatterley but, for the sake of this historical novel, she makes for a perfect advocate. MacLeod places Jackie in attendance at a 1959 public hearing on Lady C which, in turn, results in an FBI surveillance snaphsot of her that sets in motion a whirlwind of clandestine activity by Hoover and his henchmen to bring down JFK’s presidential bid. Anyone who knows anything about Lady C, or has actually read the book, knows that this novel has as much, or more, to do with political power than with sex. Clearly, Jackie is the ultimate symbol of a political bedfellow. In 1960, Jackie was still closer to the limited world of Lady C, trapped in her own sexless marriage. The only power a woman in her position could rely upon was found through marriage. And the only control a man could rely upon over a woman, at that time, was through marriage. It is the institution of holy matrimony that is threatened by Lawrence’s controversial novel. That is actually the most “obscene” thing in the novel any detractor could say against it.
The day in 1960 when Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published after a long legal battle. Derek Berwin/Getty Images
MacLeod’s love for literature rings true in this novel which acts as a love letter to Lady C and great fiction. As any masterful writer knows, one of the most appealing aspects of embarking upon a novel is the opportunity to treat it as a vast canvas upon which you can paint your greatest passions. This passion for storytelling is brought out in the character of Dina, an ancestor to friends of the family of D.H. Lawrence, and a budding literary scholar. It’s more than a good chance that Dina stands in as an alter ego for MacLeod. It is through Dina that MacLeod can express her greatest admiration for Lawrence’s landmark work, both erudite and heartfelt. It may have been only a matter of time before just the right author came along and channeled D.H. Lawrence. Tenderness was to be the original title for Lawrence’s novel as it gets to the heart of his theme that we inevitably must give way to the demands of the body. MacLeod honors that theme with her invigorating book.
The Last Mona Lisa. Jonathan Santlofer. Sourcebooks. 2021. $27.99
It was back in 1987 that I made my first visit to Paris, which included viewing the Mona Lisa. My more recent visit was in 2019. I can tell you that the ’87 visit was not like the uber-spectacle it is now. It wasn’t even in the same location. As I recall, it was a huge square of a space and the Mona Lisa was housed in a booth that made me think of a carnival fortune telling machine. The gatherings of people were left to do as they pleased and behaved like instinctively polite starlings. People seemed to know just how to behave! Now, it’s like a cramped and narrow airport terminal with everyone jockeying for position, queued up for a few seconds of viewing, and then directed off by guards. Really, I’m not kidding. Anyway, I had to say that because I figure it will strike a chord with some of you and it’s a perfect opening observation to a book that I believe would satisfy a lot of the curiosity out there for the mega-famous painting. The book is entitled, The Last Mona Lisa, by a truly captivating writer, Jonathan Santlofer. I’ve been intrigued by Santlofer for some time as I’ve observed how well he’s done as both an artist and a writer. I was quite moved by his memoir and that led me to check out some of his crime fiction, which is a lot of fun. His new book takes his skills and passions and distills them into an urbane thriller that will stay with you just like a memory of your favorite dinner overlooking a beautiful sunset. So, yeah, it’s that kind of book. In fact, if it’s not already, it should be stocked in the Louvre gift shop. And, yes, the museum is now open, albeit with health restrictions. Also, I should add here, this is a book that is ideal for any book club as you may imagine.
Mona Lisa Mania!
The Last Mona Lisa is about the greatest museum heist of them all, the theft of the Mona Lisa by a Louvre museum guard in August of 1911. It was a sensation in newspapers all over the world and catapulted the Leonardo Da Vinci painting to world-famous masterpiece status. Santlofer takes that story and weaves a narrative that explores the inner life of the thief, the frustrated artist Vincent Peruggia, and present day attempts by his great-grandson, Luke Perrone, along with a rogue INTERPOL detective among others, to unravel the mystery behind the details of this most unusual museum heist caper. All this investigating leads to the possibility that the real Mona Lisa was never returned to the Louvre and now some people will stop at nothing to get the real thing. Among the various subplots, it’s the story of Luke, the great-grandson of the original thief, that leads the way, neck and neck with following the drama of Vincent, the thief and aspiring celebrated artist.
It’s fun to follow Luke’s progress as an unlikely hero who grows into his role as a sleuth. He stumbled upon the story of his infamous great-grandfather when, as a boy, he’d been tasked with cleaning out the family attic. One look inside a chest reveals the tell-tale mugshot of Vincent Peruggia which triggers a lifelong obsession with finding out the truth about the thief of the Mona Lisa. Fast forward to the present and Luke finagles his way to gaining access to a rare books section in a prominent library in Florence, Italy. It is there that he becomes involved with a mysterious beauty, a striking blonde who just so happens to be pursuing her own scholarly search at the same table that Luke is camped out at. This, of course, sets in motion some of the key elements needed for the romantic thriller that ensues.
Santlofer paints a portrait of Vincent Peruggia as the classic malcontent would-be bad boy artist who just so happens to fall into the company of Pablo Picasso and other notable figures of the Parisian art scene, like Max Jacob. Vincent Peruggia is no Vincent van Gogh! Instead, he’s a somewhat competent artist of the most obvious subject matter like pretty still life paintings. He’s resentful of the avant-garde cubist work by Braque and Picasso which he dimly understands. Vincent is the Lee Harvey Oswald of the art world, destined for infamy.
The Mona Lisa was indeed “stolen” in 1910, a year prior to the famous 1911 heist.
The building blocks to Santlofer’s novel are all true. The Mona Lisa was, in fact, “stolen” a year prior to the celebrated heist by Vincent Peruggia. Santlofer provides a news clipping of the story that sort of just came and went in 1910 but, without a doubt, documented a robbery of some kind. It’s a fine piece of detective work on Santlofer’s part as it doesn’t readily come up on a casual internet search. For whatever reason, that story ended up an odd blip without a follow-up. Nothing was ever officially said again about any theft. Not until the story that would not go away, the celebrated story of 1911. It is this incongruous situation with the ignored “theft” of 1910 that has fed countless rumors and conspiracy theories. It is this stranger-than-fiction phenomena that was just waiting to be plucked and processed into Santlofer’s latest delightful page-turner.
For more information, and how to buy this book, go to Sourcebooks.
John Paul Leon, an amazing artist in the comics industry with a highly distinctive style, has passed away. I got to know his writing partner, Brett Lewis, and that was such a treat. Brett, if you read this, please contact me. If you want to find out what John Paul Leon was all about, then just seek out THE WINTER MEN, one of the most dazzling and offbeat works of comics you will ever read: so quirky and inventive with its loving tribute to spy thriller tropes in a deliciously subversive way! This is all thanks to the creative team of Leon and Lewis. I love comics and I’m associated with comics on so many levels but it all comes down to the honest hard-working individuals who genuinely have something real and vital to bring to the table. John Paul Leon was such an individual. He is beloved within the industry and by the many fans who got to know his work.
John Paul Leon artwork for Static Shock
John Paul Leon, best known for his artwork for Static Shock and Earth X, gave us a highly energetic and gritty style all his own. Leon died on May 1, 2021, at the age of 49, after a long battle with cancer. The news came via Chris Conroy, a senior editor at DC Comics. He wrote: “It seems the news is out. Last night we lost John Paul Leon, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of comics, the kind of artist that EVERY artist revered. Those who loved him had some warning, but not enough.” For the ultimate tribute to Leon, read this by Michael Davis, co-founder of Milestone Comics and co-creator of Static Shock.
May 5, 2021 by Tommy Lee Edwards, Organizer Today was my first attempt at a full work-day since losing JP. Feels like I’ve lost a limb. My sounding board has gone silent. My rudder is broken & my boat’s full of holes. Glasses are fogged & it’s hard to read the map. Reading the lovely comments on this GoFundMe page is helping me stay the course, tho. Thank you.
A GoFundMe has been set up in support of a trust for John Paul Leon’s family. It is organized by Tommy Lee Edwards, John Paul’s studiomate.
Excerpt from Static Shock
Next, let me share with you a post from John Paul Leon’s dear friend and creative partner, Brett Lewis. You can find this and a lot of other goodies by visiting Brett at his Patreon. I only share this one particular post since it is so fitting at this time. This was originally posted back in August of 2020 and is a touching reminiscence of events prior to working on The Winter Men.
Years before Winter Men finally got set up at Vertigo, while we were still shopping it around, i found myself editing and writing a Karl Malone comic book adventure.
(He is a famous now-former basketball player for the Utah Jazz.)
I’ve never looked down on well-executed licensed books the way some do (especially then) and i didn’t want to hire or work with any hacks.
John Paul Leon is always at 100% commitment level and we’d been looking to do something long form for years. I’d also been encouraging him to ink his own work for years (an easier said than done leap in those days) and wanted to see him explore in comics the sort of line qualities& open to color linework he utilized beautifully in his private work & life drawing –where he explored his love of things like Alex Toth fully as well as the kind of gestural 60s-70s editorial illustration style we studied with Jack Potter at SVA. This seemed like a good time and place.
This seemed right.
Best selling comic in the history of Utah. And i did a press conference with the guy, Malone, which was fairly surreal.
The color printed too dark/oversaturated, but the original colors by my other college friend, and John’s hometown friend, Bernard Chang were lovely.
The character designs were by me and the great illustrator and designer Chris Jordon. Maybe i can find some of those.
Above are the only images from it i have at the moment. **
Was working on getting a PDF for you guys to enjoy the whole story and original colors, but by a confluence of events the old zip disk it was on has come to be missing in the effects of my friend who had been working on all my old computers and hard drives to rescue into accessibility some files of old projects when he died,
and due to quarantine i can’t go search where i need to go search for it. Yet.
I hope there remain many other small hopes where you are too.
— Brett Lewis
John Paul Leon artwork for BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT
There’s an old link buried somewhere within the innards of this site that has by old review of The Winter Men. I will go ahead and post it all here as it is such a wonderful time capsule and just goes to show the excitement that comics can elicit. The Winter Men was part of the Wildstorm imprint (originally, it began as part of Vertigo) at DC Comics and stands as an amazing example of the artful and edgy stuff you can find at DC Comics when all the stars align themselves properly! Ah, this is a double feature as it also includes a review of another oldie but goodie, RED HERRING. This would be a great time to issue a special hardcover edition of The Winter Men. Let DC Comics know how you feel if this strikes a chord with you.
Well, wet your whistle on this, pardner. This review was originally posted at Newsarama, November 18, 2009:
REVIEW: THE WINTER MEN
“The Winter Men” is a patchwork quilt of observations and red herrings that takes the spy thriller to new heights of eccentric fun. It’s one of those stories that starts out about being one thing and ends up embracing everything. Meet Kris Kalenov, the main character in “The Winter Men,” he is your guide into the underworld and beyond. It’s a new world order since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Kalenov is no longer a star player in a Soviet secret weapons program. He has become a Moscow cop, usually full of vodka and, at the start of this tale, is keeled over drunk on a sidewalk covered in snow.
I did not discover “The Winter Men” when it was a comic book but, considering its production delays, including its switchover from Vertigo to Wildstorm, it’s understandable that it somehow slipped by me. Luckily, I did not have to experience any long waits between issues and got to read this new collected trade in one sitting. This is a good read anytime and anywhere but I also see it as perfect inflight reading. Aren’t spy thrillers very popular in airport bookstores? I believe this to be so. It’s because you’re out of your element and open to adventure.
One big thing about “The Winter Men” is that it gets you way out of your element. It’s like “Goodfellas,” one of the best movies about gang life, all about wiseguys and getting whacked. “The Winter Men,” is all about Russia’s new Mafiya and its biznessmen and getting under the right roof. There’s also something akin to “Watchmen” going on in the background, a uber-man that was once the pride of Mother Russia, but it’s Kalenov and his rough and shady bunch, that will have you delight over this convoluted plot as you would in, say, an Elmore Leonard novel.
“The Winter Men” has a real attitude about it too. It promises the world, heroically keeps up with its ambition and, if it falters, shrugs like a good world-weary Russian. Kalenov, our drunk Moscow cop who once was so much more, would prefer to just live quietly and make do with his less than perfect marriage. But too much has happened in the past and it can’t be ignored. “We once filled the sky with heroes…but now they’ve fallen to earth…” That is an intriguing refrain that is looped throughout the book. Within the span of the first few pages: hints of the Soviet super-hero program, a woman is shot, a child is kidnapped and Kalenov is picked up from the snow and enlisted to solve the crime of the century, although he doesn’t know that yet.
All this reminds me of any number of very good television series that, from the narrative, the characters and the production value, are clearly a cut above. And these shows usually make big promises and it’s okay if they don’t deliver on all of them since it’s the world that the characters inhabit that’s most rewarding. I think of shows like, “Life on Mars,” at least the American version, or “Life” or “Dollhouse.” In fact, it’s interesting to consider if these shows would have done better in finding an audience if they were less about process and more about results but, then again, these shows are primarily about attitude. The promises they make, real or not, can be legitimate fuel for the story’s engine.
Another connection to “Watchmen,” I think, is the group of heroes that Kalenov originally belonged to. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the line-up is recalled by Kalenov in a regular loop throughout the book: Drost, the soldier; Nikki, the gangster; Nina, the bodyguard; Kalenov, the poet; for a total of four, or five, if you include The Siberian. There’s even a sepia toned photograph of the gang in much happier times: Nikki has just told a joke and it has The Siberian in stitches. Along with the irony, it’s those details, the atmosphere and texture that this book thrives on.
There are a couple of scenes that come to mind. And, like everything else here, the writer and artist team of Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon tackle it with gusto. One has Kalenov and Nikki creating a disturbance in a McDonald’s so that they can unbolt from the floor a plastic table and chairs console to take home. The employee desperately tries to convince an irate Kalenov that the mayonnaise does adhere to city regulations with “well above the forty percent fat requirement.” Another good one has Nikki in the middle of a full-on turf war with other soft drink vendors. Informing the mayhem and murder are quotes from a self-help best-seller like, “Lose Control to the Maximum.”
Perhaps your reading of “The Winter Men” will find it keeping to all its promises and even holding the answer to the meaning to life. God knows, it is certainly within its reach. If you find fault, some blame, maybe a good bit of it, can go to the fact the series was cut from a promised eight issues down to six. There are parts to the story that do appear truncated. And the ending does seem to come all too quickly. However, the fact remains that this comic is really about the quirk and it’s all there for you to enjoy.
Hope you enjoyed this installment of Comics Grinder and I welcome you back for more. You can always check in too at the Comics Grinder site.
And here’s another quirky title, very much up my alley, that I enjoyed from way back. This review was first published at Newsarama on August 12, 2009:
Best Shots Extra: WildStorm’s RED HERRING #1
by Henry ChamberlainDate: 12 August 2009 Time: 05:55 PM ET 0 0Reddit0Submit0
Red Herring #1
Writer: David Tischman
Pencils: Philip Bond
Inks: David Hahn
Color: Guy Major
Lettering: Rob Leigh
Published by DC Wildstorm
Reviewed by: Henry Chamberlain
In Stores Today, August 12, 2009
Well, it’s true, as David Tischman says in a recent Newsarama interview, Philip Bond knows how to draw sexy women. So does David Hahn. That’s how we lead into Wildstorm’s latest cool caper comic, Red Herring. A young woman in a lacy bra has just slipped into a pump while chatting on her cell phone. Her languorous pose is surrounded by little bits of intimate narration: “It’s been crazy-busy at the office and talking to your mother calms you down.” We proceed a few pages as Maggie MacGuffin tries to find the right outfit while keeping in mind, as the story title suggests, “Blue Makes Her Look Fat.”
With such a stylish beginning, we smoothly move through what is a top-notch sly and sexy story. One goal of this opener is to connect Maggie MacGuffin with male lead, the titular Red Herring. As characters, they could not be more different. They seem to only share the fact that their names represent literary dead ends, false clues in a mystery, but they prove to be very much alive. They are not meant for each other but that could be fun too.
I haven’t had quite as much fun with a comic since another Wildstorm series, Mysterius the Unfathomable. This is a totally different scene, the world of high rollers and espionage in Washington D. C., but it’s definitely got a similar ultra-cool and clever style. Where Mysterius was very good with details about magicians, Red Herring provides the right balance of insider dealing and conspiracy theorist satisfaction.
We already know that things are never quite as they seem so it makes perfect sense to spice up the ambiguity by having fate bring together a party girl with a conscience, Maggie MacGuffin, and an earnest gumshoe secret agent, Red Herring. Couldn’t make matters any worse, could do it? Well, maybe so. Did I mention there is a possible alien subplot and people are already trying to kill Red before he kills them? Yeah, things could get very messy.
This first issue is probably chock full of MacGuffins and red herrings. As for the details that add texture, they build up quite nicely. The narrator mocks Maggie as she struts her way to Capital Hill. “Compromise is the ESSENCE of politics. That’s what your AP History teacher said.” Maggie works down in the lower levels of Congress “where the offices are small and the salary’s even smaller. Two weeks barely pays for a good pair of shoes.” At first, we see Maggie filing away papers but then we come to find out this meek office worker is actually the lover of a high powered Congressman.
The tempo slows down for some procedural scenes with the no-nonsense Red Herring. So far, Red is proving to be a little too dry for his own good. But he has this thing about his glass eye and so he may prove to have some interesting issues. . Red is supposed to be about ten years older than Maggie and the plan, according to David Tischman, is to keep these two platonic. That could be a pity. Or maybe it’s a red herring.