Sunday, July 26, 2009

More books I've read in 2009

Nowadays cosmos-spanning comic book epics are a dime a dozen, with some big industry-wide "event" with dozens of temporary deaths taking place several times a year. But back in the early 70's when Roy Thomas wrote the Kree-Skrull war in the pages of "The Mighty Avengers" we were seeing something we'd never seen before. How well does it hold up? Well, despite the fact that two vast universes are at war and earth is about to be destroyed just because it's in the way, what most people remember about this saga is when the tragic-romantic android the Vision is shot down by three cows (actually shape-changing Skrulls, a dangling plot thread from an early issue of Fantastic Four, nobody wrapped up loose continuity better than Roy the Boy) and then Ant-Man's fantastic voyage through his high-tech body, and that was really more of a digression from the main plot. Something I appreciated this time that probably went over my thirteen-year old head was the way Thomas drew a corollary between the politician who wanted all Kree and other aliens off our planet with Senator Joseph McCarthy and every other xenophobic, racist jerkwad who's followed in his footsteps (and we are certainly awash in them). Here are some words of wisdom from the Vision (before the cows attacked him):

"If first a man of the Kree can be detained for no reason, then detainment of androids will follow, next of mutants,then giants until, ultimately a left-handed man would fight a right-handed man to the death for the remains of a bombed out planet!"

Which reminds me of this poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller
"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then... they came for me... And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

There's an interesting in-depth look at McCarthyism, and Witch-Hunts Through Captain Marvel Comics here.
So, there's a lot going on here, sometimes too much, and the
war seems to come to an abrupt end -- by way of a deus ex machina, no less; I mean I still have no idea how Rick Jones was able to pull all those obscure comic book heroes of the 40s and 50s out of his brain and into reality. But even when the thing makes no sense, you've still got the stunning Neal Adams and John Buscema artwork. (Well, in the first few chapters you've got art by Sal Buscema, who evidently got a job as an artist based on the fact that his last name was Buscema.)

Kyle Baker can be funny ("Plastic Man" and "The Bakers" and the still-controversial, still-hilarious
"Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter") and he can be serious ("Truth" "Nat Turner") on "King David" he shows he can do both.
This is a retelling of the story (mostly from the books of Samuel in the Old Testament) of King David, his struggles with Goliath, King Saul, the Philistines as well as his own human frailties. This book is beautiful and I suggest you go here and take a look at it. Baker does mix direct Bible quotes with a lot of slapstick and borscht-belt comedy, which may not be everyone's cup of tea -- works for me, though. Actually what bothers me about this story has nothing to do Kyle Baker. It has to do with how David was idolized for being basically a mass murderer. "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" was what the Israelites said of David and it made Saul feel inadequate. And it's only after he falls in love with another man's wife, impregnates her and -- of course -- kills the husband, Uriah the Hittite, who for my money is the real hero here, if there is a hero in this book -- that he falls out of God's favor. Which seems to lay the groundwork for our whole ultra-violent, sexually repressed modern Christian American society?
Or am I reading too much into this?

I also read (reread maybe, I'm not sure) "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell I first became aware of her for the work she did on PRI's "This American Life" but I think I like her even better on the page than the airwaves. These are personal essays, historical essays, and personal-historical essays. Vowell is a history nerd and although she calls it being partly cloudy (rather than a sunshine patriot, in the words of Thomas Paine) I think all true patriots love their country the way Vowell does -- not blindly right or wrong, but with anger and disappointment when America falls short of her lofty goals, and pride when she actually mananges to come up to a few of them now and then.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Zelda Fitzgerald

Happy birthday to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Queen of the Flappers, ballerina, artist, novelist, playwright and muse, Daisy to Scott's Jay. She would have been 109 today if she hadn't perished in a fire at a mental institution in Asheville NC in 1948.

"Why should graves make people feel in vain? Somehow I can’t find anything hopeless in having lived.” Zelda Fitzgerald

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Artist

**Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. Try not to repeat a song title. It's harder than you think.

Pick an artist: The Ramones

Are you male or female: Spider-Man
Describe yourself: I Believe in Miracles
How do you feel about yourself: Got a Lot to Say
Describe where you currently live: This Ain’t Havana
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Garden of Serenity
Your favorite form of transportation: Rocket to Russia (Cheating just a little, since that’s an album, not a song, so sue me.)
Your best friend is: She’s a Sensation
What's the weather like: California Sun
Favorite time of day: Chasin’ the Night
If your life was a tv show, what would it be called: The Job That Ate My Brain
Feelings on high school: Teenage Lobotomy
What is life to you: I'm Not Afraid of Life
What is the best advice you have to give: Bop Till You Drop
If you could change your name, what would it be: Surfin’ Bird
Your favorite food is: Every Time I Eat Vegetables, it Makes me Think of You.
What did you do last night?: Makin’ Monsters For my Friends.
What're your plans for tomorrow?: I Wanna be Sedated.
How you would like to die: Somebody Put Something in my Drink
Your present condition: My Brain is Hanging Upside Down.
Your thoughts on your love life: Something to Believe in
Your motto: Learn to Listen

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tom Robbins

Happy birthday to Tom Robbins, born exactly 73 years ago today in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I can honestly say that his books (specifically "Jitterbug Perfume" and "Still Life With Woodpeckers") changed my life for the better. Robbins' writing has always been a fascinating mixture of the polished and the freewheeling. He does not outline or revise, but he shines each sentence until it's perfect before going onto the next one. Some sentences take days. I can't imagine this method working for many other writers but it works for Robbins.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Books I've read in 2009

Lately the books I've been looking forward to the most have disappointed me. Some of my favorite writers -- Jonathan Carroll, Mil Millington, Russell Hoban -- all had new books come out recently and none of them lived up to my expectations. Maybe that's my fault. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. Maybe I need to pick up books without any expectations. I'm not sure how to do that with authors I like, but I had no expectations of "Whale Music" by Pauk Quarrington. I just picked it up to have something to read at the beach. It's a novel about Desmond Howl, who had a string of hits in the 60s about girls and cars, but lost his mind somewhere along the way, now living alone, spending a lot of time in his swimming pool and working on a pie-eyed project. If it sounds a lot like Brian Wilson that's not an accident. Brian Wilson himself has stated “Whale Music is the best book written about the Beach Boys”. But to me it's less of a story about music and madness and family and art, and mostly a love story. A young woman dealing with some psychological issues of her own makes some progress at drawing Desmond out of his cocoon, and he realizes he loves her right about the time he finally drives her away. Here he conquers his agoraphobia and asks a bartender if he's seen her:

"(She) has long golden hair. Her eyes are green, except for when she is angered, at which time they become tinged ever so slightly with a steely gray. Many people would call her mouth oversized, her lips too full, but this is a matter of taste, I myself would differ. She is slight of build, small-breasted, well-proportioned."

"Haven't seen her," Pete snaps.

"Her name is Claire."

"Means nothing," says Pete.

"Imagine a wheat field. A hot summer's day. Overnight a carnival has arrived, a Ferris wheel and hot-dog stand. A clown races around doing pratfalls."

"Oh, yeah," nods Pete. "She was in the day before yesterday."

I loved this book so much I was tempted to start it over and reread it as soon as I finished it. (I didn't only because I didn't want to hear all the teasing my sister, the Literary Terminator, would give me.) The only criticism I have of the book is that the female characters did not seem as three-dimensional to me as the male characters. Other than that, the only thing that bothered me was a minor nitpick. There's a guru character in the book named Babboo Nass Fazoo, and I just can't believe nobody ever said anything about the fact that his name would be pronounced the same as "Babboon Ass." Other than that, a magnificent book. I am now actively seeking out more of Quarrington's work. I'll try not to have any expectations of it, however.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More books I've read in 2009

I've enjoyed every Tom Perrotta book I've ever read, and it's a testament to how good a writer he is that not a lot happens in his books and still you keep turning the pages because he makes you care about his characters. In "The Wishbones" 31-year old Tom Raymond is still living with his parents, still playing in a band that's going nowhere except to the Holiday Inn for another wedding reception, still delaying growing up. One night he proposes to his long-time girlfriend almost by accident and immediately starts trying to sabotage it when she accepts. To me, this boook had a lot to say about love, growing up and music's ability to keep you young. My favorite scene in the book didn't involve the main characters but Buzzy, the happily-married, possibly-alcoholic bass player. Realizing he's never going to make it as a rock star but unwilling to completely relinquish those fantasies he tosses a 13-inch television out of his bedroom window, in a suburban homage to Keith Moon et al's hotel escapades.

Friday, July 03, 2009

More books I own in 2009

Continuing our tour of my bookshelves. We've gone from Art books to autographed art books. (And actually I need to back up for a second. When I mentioned how much I enjoyed the book "The Pinup Art of Dan DeCarlo, I said there was a second volume of Mr. DeCarlo's pinup art available that I would love to have, and then on Father's Day look what my daughter gave me:

Thanks, Leah. This volume was just as entertaining as the first one. I doubt there will be a third though since a lot of the cartoons in here are unfinished -- well, the art is finished and that's all that matters, but some have no captions and some have a couple of possible captions that DeCarlo was considering.

Okay, on to the autographed art books:

Frank Cho used to do a great comic strip called Liberty Meadows. Then people noticed that (unlike most modern comic artists) Cho could actually draw and Marvel backed a truck of money up to his house and got him to draw the Avengers and some other superhero stuff and Frank Cho became a lot less interesting. But in these sketchbooks he's free to draw whatever he wants to. And like most great artists what he wants to draw is dinosaurs and apes and beautiful girls in various stages of undress.

By the way, there's a fourth volume out if anybody feels as generous as Leah.

Gene Colan was my favorite silver age artist and although I didn't know it till the other night when we were playing a game and I had to answer the question "Who was your favorite artist of the 20th century?" much more than that. His art always seems so real, so textured and vibrant you feel like you could step right into. His run on Tomb of Dracula is one of the highwater marks in sequential art. Just unbeatable.

There's not a lot of art in "Shop Talk" mostly casual interviews the great Will Eisner (creator of "The Spirit") did with other comics greats. Eisner passed away in 2005 but his innovations are everywhere in comics today.That's all for now. More later.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More Books I've read in 2009

Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet.

Don't feel bad, I had never heard of Bernarr Macfadden before either, but every American who lived in the first half of the 20th Century knew who he was. He was the more muscular of those turn of the century health reformers like Kellogg, Post and Graham, although like them he was obsessed with his bowels -- he even used to eat sand, figuring if it was good enough to clean glass bottles, it ought to be good enough to clean his innards. In addition to basically inventing American body building and strength training directly -- through his long-running magazine Physical Culture, his Healthatorium -- and indirectly (he inspired among others, Charles Atlas, Joe Weider and Jack LaLanne) he also can law claim or take the blame for creating tabloid journalism (his New York Evening Graphic, where Walter Winchell got his start is widely considered the worst newspaper ever) and inspiring reality television -- although it was reality magazines at first; Macfadden published True Story and True Confessions among dozens of other magazines. He was a millionaire, a mover and a shaker, friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, but he died broke and -- as you know -- is today largely forgotten. His obscurity is undeserved however. I don't read a lot of biographies but this one was fascinating. The author ever guinea-pigged himself out with some of Macfadden's more bizare health and fitness regimens with mixed (but often hilarious) results.

Happy Birthday Library

It was on this day in 1731 that Ben Franklin founded the first circulating library, a forerunner to the now ubiquitous free public library. He started it as a way to help settle intellectual arguments among his group of Philadelphia friends, the Junto, a group of civic-minded individuals gathered together to discuss the important issues of their day.Each of the 50 charter members bought an initial share into the company (40 shillings), which helped fund the buying of books, and then paid a smaller yearly fee (10 shillings) that went to buying more books and maintaining the library. In exchange, the members could borrow any of the books. Donations of books were gladly accepted.They called their charter the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the next year, Franklin hired America's first librarian, Louis Timothee. At first, the books were stored at the librarian's house, but by the end of the decade, they were moved to the Pennsylvania State House, which is now known as Independence Hall.