With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

With Further Ado #181: Harlan Coben’s Stay Close Is on Netflix

I’ve been a big fan of Harlan Coben’s thrillers for a long time. His clever, complicated stories always challenge the reader to “keep up”. And simultaneously, lull readers into a sense of false comfort because each tale is authentic and “real world”.

I lived in the metro NYC area for years. I can tell you that Harlen Coben was always able to channel the hopes, fears, and the anxious dread that, for so many, goes hand in hand with that kind of suburban living.  His protagonists seem like people next door who get caught up in situations far beyond anything they could imagine. And then Coben ratchets the tension up. It always gets worse for the characters.

This visionary writer struck a deal with Netflix to produce short series based up on his books.  And you know what? I think that an 8-episode story is just about the perfect length to adapt his books.  In the old days, back when we’d all go to movie theaters to watch movies, the “big win” for an author was seemingly to have her or his work adapted into a 90-minute movie.  Anyone who had read the book would, of course, be either disappointed that so much was cut, or constantly comparing and contrasting the merits of the prose version vs. the cinematic version.  But today’s streaming shows are the perfect way to enjoy a filmed version of a book, without sacrificing huge chunks of the narrative or cutting back the cast of characters

Harlan Coben’s Stay Close is his latest book to be adapted by Netflix.  It’s the story of a woman named Cassie (love that name – it’s big in my family) who’s been trying to put her sordid past behind her, and things just got more complicated. But caveat emptor (or should I say caveat lector, “Let the reader beware”?): Stay Close has a complicated, decades spanning plot with a large cast of characters.  A storyteller like Coben can both confuse viewers and help them solve the puzzle – piece by piece- at the same time.

Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

Of note: there’s a psychotic pair of killers in this series. They are creepy, wacky and they scared the bejeezus outta me.  I don’t know where or when exactly these types of characters started, but I would venture to say that it may have begun with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from the 007 movie, Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  In Ian Flemings book, these two eccentric killers weren’t nearly as memorable as their cinematic counterparts.  Kudos to Coben for finding a way to improve upon this trope and deliver something fresh and memorable. And creeeeeeeepy.

For longtime Coben readers, there’s a lot of Easter eggs, including mentions of Ridgewood, Waldwick and Baumgarts Café.  But the coolest part of Stay Close is the way this author keeps pushing it – and continues to deliver a clever mystery, keeping even a long-time mystery lover on the edge of his seat.


Note: The Innocent, from 2018, is another Coben book recently adapted into an 8-episode Netflix series, and I’d highly recommend that one too.

With Further Ado #180: Five and a Half Questions with Christopher Irving about Mike Allred’s Madmania Saturday Morning Cereal Box Fun Pack

With Further Ado #180: Five and a Half Questions with Christopher Irving about Mike Allred’s Madmania Saturday Morning Cereal Box Fun Pack

Chris Irving is a creative guy who’s always got something cooking.  One of his early projects, Leaping Tall Buildings, is still a favorite book of mine. He’s a comics historian and an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.  But with the new year here and his new Kickstarter just launched, it seems like the perfect time to regroup!

He is the latest participant (victim?) of the 5 and 1/2 question format.

Question 1: Your new project looks wild and fun! Can you explain exactly what Mike Allred’s Madmania Saturday Morning Cereal Box Fun Pack is?

Christopher Irving: Sure thing, Ed! I’ve run Fun Pack Madman campaigns where we keep adding more swag (yoyos, stickers, trading cards, you name it!) the more we fund. I was trying to come up with a campaign that would have a great gimmick, and it just felt it was a natural for a cereal box with prizes inside. I’m also a huge fan of creating cool packaging for all my campaigns, so why not START with the packaging and then fill it as we go? By the end of the campaign, we hope to have a box full of more and more goodies, all for just $35 (plus shipping).

The initial Kickstarter goal of $4K funds the cereal box, a Madman yo-yo, a Joe Lombard yo-yo, and two lobby card style 4 x 6 postcards of both Red Rocket 7 and The Oddity Odyssey (think if they came out as drive-in movies in the ’60s). Stretch goals include some mad scientist yoyos, and– A whoopie cushion with THE PUKE!

As I write this, we’re moving towards two new yo-yos: one of Dr. Flem and another of Laura Allred herself (to go with the surprise Mike Allred yo-yo last year).

This campaign met its initial goal in just six hours! That is the benefit of having a regular stable of awesome backers who keep coming back for more.

Question 2: What’s the background on this one? How do you guys ever come up with it?

CI: I’m really, really lucky working with Mike Allred: I just pitch an idea his way and he often just gives me the thumbs up, with approvals and suggestions on the way.

I was really trying to think of creative ways to package a fun pack and nothing says fun more to me than “cereal box”. A good chunk of this also comes from my four-year-old son, Grayson, who is unlucky enough to get breakfast cereals that are BOR-ING when it comes to prizes in the box. Heck, even Cracker Jacks prizes are super-lame! This is a way to go overboard and give him the best cereal box prize experience ever.

Question 3: Exactly who does it appeal to? Old fans? New fans? Cereal fans?

CI: Definitely Madman fans of any generation who love the cool swag! If you’re new to Madman, I’ve been self-publishing pamphlet style essays on each run of Madman (called Madmania!), which can be gained as add-ons and help the newbie learn about the world of Snap City. As for cereal fans, if you collect cool prizes, then this box is for you!

Question 4: I understand you’ve had success with past Kickstarters. What makes your Kickstarters successful?

CI: The backers, first and foremost! I’ve built a really loyal, reliable, and supportive backer base of Madman fans over the past few years. I also build the campaigns with a relatively low overhead for the initial goal, and simply upgrade the main attraction as we continue to fund–which gives old backers more reason to help spread the word of the campaign and gain new ones. That then helps grow the campaigns and benefits everyone who pitches in.

My goal is to give the backers more than their money’s worth by the end of the campaign. I’ve lost my shirt on one or two and broken even on another, but it’s totally worth it when I get nice emails and social media posts from folks who love what I’ve sent out to them.

One thing I’ll never forget is sending a campaign out RIGHT when the pandemic started in 2020 and got a ton of comments from folks who needed that pick-me-up.

Question 5: When does it launch and what will people like most about it?

CI: I launched right after the New Year and we’re going really strong just two days later. I think the best part about the Fun Pack is it gives backers the chance to get even more than their money’s worth through stretch goals. It’s also a chance to get a really substantial and sweet box of unique, limited Madman swag in just a couple of short months. I don’t go back and reprint or have any backstock in case someone misses it–so this is the only chance to grab the Saturday Morning Madmania Fun Pack.

Question 5½ : I know there’s no real cereal involved. But if there was, what cereal, or cereals, would it be?

CI: The cereal on the box was actually made of Sculpie and would (hypothetically) be “berry” red yoyos with marshmallow exclamation bolts, but if I could choose a pre-existing cereal:

Ralston made a Spider-Man cereal and Teenage Mutant Ninjas cereal in the ’90s, that were basically the same thing. I’d sit down with a box and eat it dry with Mystery Science Theater 3000 every Saturday night at 1 AM in college, and the sugar buzz kept me up all morning.

EC: Thanks so much, Chris!

 


For more on Chris, check out his page here.  And for more on this project, check it out here.

As Is by Mike Gold – 9-11 Part Two

After two decades, the 9-11 terrorists finally cemented their victory. They did so 366 days ago this very day

The victory has been the result of the chain reaction they must have hoped for in 2001: that by mounting attacks from Boston on New York and Washington, slamming into the Pentagon building and taking down our nation’s greatest warehouse of capitalism, we might unite for a few minutes but overall but our fear and the distrust inherent within a mongrel nation quickly would vomit down upon us and we Americans would turn on each other just as we always do.

That’s the textbook definition of terrorism; that’s why terrorism is an effective course of action for those willing to play the long game.

Steve Bannon © Bill Sienkiewicz.

The time was perfect for The Impossible Pussy, Donald J. Trump, and his criminally paranoid minions of White Supremacists to try to take over the nation. I don’t think they could have gotten as far as they have – their efforts remain a work in progress – if not for Osama bin Laden, the heart and soul of the contemporary Republican Party.

Critically, this White Supremacist Republican takeover of the United States of America by any means necessary (it’s not a coup as it’s hardly been bloodless, and only some White Supremacists think it has been bloodless) is indeed just the beginning. They stand every chance of succeeding. A handful of White Christian Republican far right-wing monsters and perverts can deny the people their vote or can overturn that vote at will. That, my friends, is a dictatorship.

You may think comparing the American White Right to Hitler is a cheap shot; it is not. Read some history. Not FoxOneAmericaBannon history where teaching the lessons of slavery might bruise the fragile feelings of some neurotic Youth Corps-raised White children and therefore must not be taught, but the real thing. The American White Republican Right is desperately and militantly trying to fulfill Adolf Hitler’s dream – no matter how many White American soldiers and sailors died in the fight to stop the fascist dictator. And, today, the American White Right Republicans have managed to label “anti-fascists” as our great evil.

These people know better. In their initial response to the first assault on our nation back on January 6 2021, the actions and inactions of Donald J. Trump and his White Supremacist Republican sycophants were condemned by such stalwart Republican masters as Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Pence, Lindsey Graham, and Nikki Haley. Since then, those comments have been sent to the Star Trek mirror universe. Oh, no. McConnell, McCarthy, Pence, Graham and Haley never said anything bad about Trump. That would be heretical. Trump is god; what he does is by definition for the greater good of Real America… the White Christian Republican America.

The present Republican party is the party of bigotry, hatred, and treason. Their masters are McConnell, McCarthy, Pence, Graham, Haley and Trump. We better obey the All-Mighty Trump if we want to breathe right.

Today is the 366th day of the Second American Civil War. It did not start pretty; it will not end pretty… if it ends at all. I wouldn’t bet against the United States of America not being around when and if it’s over. It won’t be a north vs. south thing, it won’t be a state-by-state thing, it will be a city-state operation where those areas dominated by people who are not White Christian Republican Supremacists will replace our “blue” states, leaving the vast dry oceans of American hatred to be our “red” states. You’ll be able to tell where you are by the number of masks worn on the streets, the availability of women’s health services, the number of non-Christian houses of worship, a general acknowledgement of deductive reasoning and the respect for the principles that were the firmament of that great nation, that Camelot-like place on hill that we used to call the United States of America.

You may have a different opinion… but you would be wrong.

With Further Ado #179: Five and a Half Questions With J.C. Vaughn

With Further Ado #179: Five and a Half Questions With J.C. Vaughn

J.C. Vaughn had a busy year – but every year is busy for him. You might know him from The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Gemstone’s The Scoop, all the very best comic conventions (when we have them), or maybe even his comic book work. Ooops!  I almost forgot: he’s now a published mystery writer too.

I wanted to catch up with J.C. about a very cool upcoming project: The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide to Lost Universes. It’s more than just a price guide. It’s almost a passport to all your favorite comic universes.  I caught up with him and this is what he had to say:

 

Question 1: What a great idea! How’d you come up with this concept?

J.C. Vaughn:  There were four main things that went into the concept. First, we’re always looking for ways to build on the incredible foundation Bob Overstreet and Steve Geppi have given us through their combined fifty-one years of ownership of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide thus far.

Second, for whatever reason, I’m completely intrigued by the topic, which started when I got my first Atlas-Seaboard comics (Ironjaw #1 and #4) in 1976.

Third, I put a good bit of effort into helping out on a DEFIANT fanzine and spent a fair amount of time online in groups for the original Valiant, Marvel’s New Universe, and Malibu’s Ultraverse. I think these are small but hardcore, under-served groups of passionate collectors.

Fourth, with all the record prices being paid for many comics, suddenly these affordable and mostly accessible comics in finite sets are very appealing to collectors who might otherwise be priced out of the market. Put all that together, and you get The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide To Lost Universes. I think the fact that this book is also a Photo-Journal as well as a price guide means that collectors and dealers will be using it well beyond the shelf-life of its pricing information.

Question 2: What was the first “lost universe” you were most eager to research?

JCV: I’m relatively crazy for Atlas-Seaboard and have subjected most of my close friends and associates to it for years. I’ve been researching it for years. Discovering that other people shared my curiosity for it only made it worse. I’m also pretty fond of DEFIANT, since they introduced me to Bob and Carol Overstreet, but every one of the companies or imprints we covered has devoted fans, people who love the comics they produced.

Question 3: Do you feel, especially with the recent Marvel movies, that the general public understands the notion of interconnected series better than they have in the past?

JCV: It’s not as if Star Wars, Star Trek, and other franchises hadn’t introduced the concept to pop culture fans and the culture as a whole, but perhaps we could point to tighter continuity being an element significantly furthered by the Marvel films in particular. I think their financial success has certainly made the culture as a whole more aware of and more accepting of our characters, and they now have a great understanding that comic books are the source material for so much.

Question 4: Were there any lost universes that you almost forgot, but included at the last minute?

JCV: Not really because the list is still growing, and we’re already working on the second edition!

Question 5: What Lost Universe didn’t make the cut?

JCV: The only things that didn’t/won’t make the cut are things that aren’t universes. For instance, I love DEFIANT, but Broadway, which followed – and which had some wonderful comics – doesn’t seem like it was a single universe.

As far as things not being in this first edition, without a doubt this is NOT because they didn’t make the cut, but because they will be in the second edition. At 640, full-color pages, there was only so much room in the first one. The second one will include Fawcett’s Marvel Family, Timothy Truman’s Scout mini-universe at Eclipse, Marvel 2099 and Ultimate Marvel, and several others, so again we’ll be covering the Golden Age to the recent past.

And I’m sort of sketching out Volume 3 at this point, as well. More to come.

Question 5 and a Half: If you could resurrect any one lost universe, which one would it be? And why?

JCV: This is a bit like my favorite Beatles song. I could give you an emphatic answer, and then ten minutes later give you a completely different, equally emphatic answer.

EC: Thanks J.C.! We’ll let it be. Good luck with the book!


The book will be available on February 16, 2022, and can be pre-ordered on Gemstone Publishing’s website.

The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide to Lost Universes
By Robert M. Overstreet, J.C. Vaughn & Scott Braden

The highly collectible world of lost universes gets a brand-new specially focused, full-color edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide that also serves as a Photo-Journal of all the comics featured. From in-depth looks at the original Milestone and Valiant to Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Charlton’s superheroes, and from Topps’ Kirbyverse and the MLJ/Archie heroes to Malibu’s Ultraverse and Marvel’s New Universe, this full-color book dives deep into Atlas-Seaboard, Comics Greatest World, Continuity, Defiant, Future Comics, Triumphant and more. Not only is packed with images and prices, but it also includes creator and collector interviews and insights.

With Further Ado #178: Staring Down Extinction

With Further Ado #178: Staring Down Extinction

It’s been another one of those years, hasn’t it? I thought that 2021 was going to be wonderful, easy, and a get-back-to-normal year.  Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Sometimes it was hopeful, but sometimes (I’m looking at you, Omicron) it seems like end of our species.

And maybe that’s why I find the new book from Czech publisher Albatros, The Atlas of Endangered Animals, so fascinating.  It’s written by Radek Malý and lavishly illustrated by Pavel DvorskýJiří Grbavčič.  And when I write “lavishly”, I mean LAV-ISH-LY. These illustrations are beyond fantastic.   Of course, there’s no YouTube for most of these animals, so illustrations is all have. But Grbavčič’s illustrations never make you feel like you are settling.

Here’s the official description from the publisher:

In this book, award-winning poet Radek Malý tells the stories of forty-one extinct species and studies the causes of their sad demise. The large-format Atlas of Extinct Animals is supplemented with beautifully expressive full-page illustrations by gifted artist Jiří Grbavčič and detailed pictures by renowned scientific illustrator Pavel Dvorský. The gorgeous, detailed depictions and descriptions of species and their fates can only serve as a reminder and as a warning of how much life has already disappeared from the Earth. The atlas also shows that the disappearances continue. Page by page it nears the present day and ultimately introduces creatures that still existed a few years ago, like the Zanzibar leopard (until 1996) and the Chinese river dolphin (until 2007). In the end, we are left with a bitter question: Which creature will next be added to this atlas? This book was selected by White Ravens 2020 for the annual catalog of book recommendations in the field of international children’s and youth literature.

What a great way to stimulate one’s imagination.

And as a new grandparent (I can’t quite believe it either), I take the spoiling part of my new role seriously. My granddaughters already have many super-hero books and toys.  But maybe a horizon-expanding book like this deserves a place on their bookshelves someday?

This book is scheduled to be released the end of February.

 

Atlas of Endangered Species

Written by Radek Malý
Illustrated by Pavel DvorskýJiří Grbavčič
age 9-12

Book parameters:
Size 9 × 13 in | 88 pages | hardcover | 9788000061269 | $ 24.99

P.S. And believe it or not, there’s even a sequel.

 

With Further Ado #177: Speeding into Christmas

With Further Ado #177: Speeding into Christmas

As we speed ahead towards Christmas Day, either from a religious or commercial POV, I sometimes find it hard to slow down and actually enjoy the many events along the way. Too often my mind races ahead, eager to check off that mental to-do list rather than focus on the here-and-now.

With that in mind, I rescued a wonderful Archie Comic issue from a comic shop’s bargain box!  Wonderland Comics in Rochester, NY, always has so many scrumptious treasures available.

It’s Laugh #203 from February 1968, which means it was probably on sale around Christmas of 1967.  Veronica, Betty and Mr. Lodge are admiring a retailer’s window, which features paper dresses. This was a short-lived fad, popular from ’66 to ’68.  Current movie fans may have revisited this craze in the stylish new movie Last Night in Soho. It’s a brilliant movie and highly recommended.

Cover 4

Back when magazines were a big deal, advertising executives called the back cover “Cover 4”.  It was usually the most expensive ad page. The thought process was that readers had a 50-50 chance of seeing the front cover or the back cover.

Cover 4 for this issue features a wonderful Christmas Ad. It’s curious to readers today but certainly was “normal” back in the day.  Kids loved their bicycles a generation or two ago.  Bike ads, and ads for bike related items (tires, brakes, speedometers, etc.).

This ad, from the Stewart-Warner Instrument Division (obviously not named in hopes of creating Christmas “must-haves” for kids) for their Cadet Speedometer.  It’s a special speedometer that kids would put on their bikes.

Today, of course, bikers like me just use the Strava app.  Yes, there’s now an app that has replaced this product.

This wonderful ad has the Mad Men feel to it. It’s clever and upbeat. It’s not particularly inclusive to consumers who don’t celebrate Christmas, either. The copy [the words in the ad] were thoughtfully written and creatively designed, with an alternating placement, as if two speakers were “talking” (or singing?) to the reader.  And back in 1968, it was assumed that kids were going READ the damn ad. It wasn’t about one big graphic image and a logo; instead, it was about romancing the consumer with a conversation.

There’s no focus on product benefits here. This ad isn’t about the joy a bike rider can experience when she’s whooshing down a steep hill at top speed.  This ad is all about the product features instead. Continue reading “With Further Ado #177: Speeding into Christmas”

Brainiac On Banjo: Ku Klux Luthor For President?

I just returned from a week-long driving trip to Chicago, hanging out with friends while doing as little work as possible. I used to do this three times a tear, but I haven’t for the past 21 months because, you know, Covid.

The driving part is, for me, wonderfully relaxing. I control the music, I nosh on tons of life-saving unhealthy food, and I get to enjoy long internal conversations with the one person who totally gets me. This time, while plowing through north central Ohio, my thoughts drifted towards Lex Luthor and the frightening growth of the white separatist movements. Now, before you can scream “oxymoron” let me state internal conversations often are 100 miles short of reality. It’s my brain, damn it, and it’s time I indulged it.

Back in 1961, DC published what I believe was the first story titled “The Death of Superman.” It said so right on the cover, which kinda gave away the ending. It was an “imaginary story,” meaning it didn’t really happen. Compare this with Marvel’s later What If? stories, which I gather really did happen…. somewhere.

To illustrate this bit of comic book logic: DC did not publish a series of Death of Superman comics based upon this imaginary story — they rebooted the concept many, many times, often under the same title. On the other hand, this March Marvel will be coming out with a Captain Carter series based upon the first What If? teevee episode. Reality is what happens between the staples.

In this imaginary story, Lex Luthor is pardoned from all crimes after inventing a cure for cancer. That made sense to me at the time because I was barely 11 years old when I read it at the counter of Normie’s Deli while consuming a plate of french fries and a glass of Green River. It didn’t occur to me at the time how the hell Lex actually could come up with a cure for cancer while incarcerated. Penal reform, I guess.

Upon his release, Lex buckled down to his real plan: killing the Man of Steel. SPOILER ALERT: In this story, titled The Death of Superman, Lex Luthor’s nefarious scheme was successful.

Being in 21st century Ohio, I wondered what would have happened had Lex Luthor been a Trumpster white supremacist.

In the original story, Luthor was beloved for coming up with the cancer cure — perhaps it did not involve getting a vaccine injection. He lost that love after murdering Superman. Go figure. But in my more contemporary scenario, I suspect about one-third of Americans, those who are avowed Trumpster while supremacists, would be quite happy about Luthor’s newfound prerogative.

Undoubtably, Lex would be invited to guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast. He might get his own television show on one of the lying far-right wing fake news networks. He’d go on tour raising money for Trump. He could even become the new Rush Limbaugh.

Indeed, I suspect Donald Trump would pick Lex Luthor as his vice-presidential candidate in 2024. If you think about it, this might be a grave mistake on Trump’s part — with emphasis on the term “grave.”

I mean, WTF, Lex just killed that not-white alien Superman. Killing anybody else would be no big deal. Luthor could be a better Trumpster than Trump himself.

We would have President Lex Luthor which, as I recall, happened in DC’s not-imaginary stories. These sagas, by definition, really happened.

It doesn’t take a political wag to note the Republican party would be fine with this. They are fine with the invasion of the Capitol building by violent insurrectionists, they care fine with eliminating, oh, school programs, health programs, social security, Medicare, abortion, and poverty programs in order to give the wealthiest of the wealthy another cut in the taxes they don’t pay anyway. That’s how these bastards roll.

The man who edited that original Death of Superman, Mort Weisinger, was a friend (of sorts) of the Kennedy administration, so perhaps he would not have green-lit this saga. But that way then.

This is now, and that story doesn’t seem so extreme today.

With Further Ado #176: Getting Chatty (and Catty) with Cliff Chiang

With Further Ado #176: Getting Chatty (and Catty) with Cliff Chiang

Cliff Chiang is a gifted artist, a boundary pushing creator and a helluva nice guy. He’s smart, upbeat and laser-focused on producing the best work possible. I’ve always enjoyed time his work and our conversations.  With all that in mind, I found myself enjoying the first issue of his latest, Catwoman: Lonely City, more than I thought I would.  I should note this oversized, four-issue comic series is from the DC Black Label imprint. There’s been a lot of Batman stories published lately (as Mike Gold pointed out here), and I worried I had had my fill of the character for a while.

Chiang has pleasantly surprised me yet again. I was so impressed with this book. I had to reach out to the artist, now writer-artist, to find out more. Here are the highlights from our conversation:


Ed Catto: I feel like right now, there’s a lot of Batman product out there. There’s a bunch of different projects coming out and part of me was like, “I think I’m reading too much Batman.” But somehow you broke through that clutter and really delivered something fresh with Catwoman: Lonely City.

Cliff Chiang: I wasn’t going to spend all this time on a throw-away story. I think you might be able to tell by the first issue, certainly by the second, that I’m trying to pay homage to those classic Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. You know, I almost hesitate to say “my take” take on it.  But I’m just looking to show the parts of Gotham and that don’t necessarily get shown.

Catwoman is such a perfect vehicle for that. She’s really a great character, but she’s also kind of not necessarily as rigidly defined as Batman . Certainly not the Batman that is popular today. I thought there was a lot of gray area to her that would be interesting, especially in the context of a more “crime story” showcase.

EC: Somehow it all seems very fresh. Visually I feel you tagged all the bases for fans, with all the old costumes and whatnot, and then you kind of faked us all out, with “here’s something new”.

CC: And that’s deliberate. Part of me wants to acknowledge all the publishing history that’s come before. That’s part of the mystery of the character. That’s part of what makes you feel her age as well. Because you’re like, “Oh wow she’s done this, and she’s done that. And this is the costume that she wore that time when she did this.

There’s a way in which all the publishing history, our character can be leveraged to make it feel the weight of the years.  And to celebrate that stuff to you know. A big part of this story is about is about getting older. Gotham gotten rid of superheroes, and sort of grown-up in the process.

And to take a look at how city like Gotham might function in the modern world. I wanted to play with that stuff as well.

So, you’ve got you the older stuff that we’re all fans of on one hand, and on the other hand, you can bring in new ideas. I didn’t want to throw away the old stuff.  I wanted to keep it and kind of look at different eyes and make you appreciate it again. And then bring in these other concepts to so that the whole thing is richer.

EC: This your first big venture as both writer and artist, Cliff. How was it working with a new writer (you) for “Cliff the artist”? How did that process change for you?

CC: You know, it’s funny. I started this two years ago, and the interesting thing about it is that, in order to get a handle on it all, because it’s such a big story and it’s a big job, I had to compartmentalize.  The writing –  it was a year of writing – included an outline and the full script.

I wrote in full script because I know how much information is there on the page. I’ve read so many scripts from other people, too. It allows me to kind of evaluate the story on an abstract level.

Whereas, by thumbnailing stuff (and not developing a full script- EC) ,you kind of get seduced by it because it’s a drawing.  It’s a comic all of sudden.  I wrote it all, and then I thumbnailed it and lettered it so it could be read by myself and the editors.

A lot of the writing was done, super focused, at the beginning.  Now as I’m drawing, I am thinking “Oh yeah, I knew this part was going to be a bear to draw.”

There’s so much stuff going on in every panel. Even for the city itself.  One of my goals is to make it feel really like New York City, and you can’t do that in a minimal way. Unfortunately. I wish I found shortcuts for this stuff, but at the same time, it’s what the story is. There were times when I cursed “the writer” a little bit. But it’s all going more or less “on plan”. It is taking longer than I ever expected.

EC: Do you think you would like to continue to create in this Black Label oversized the format for a while?

CC:  I do enjoy it. I think it needs the right kind of project. And I think you have to adjust your pacing for that.  That being said, I do enjoy the storytelling opportunities you get with the Black Label line.  It wasn’t until I held the thing in my and I realized the physical size of the page does have an impact.

EC: I was speaking with a local comic owner (Ash Gray from Comics for Collectors in Ithaca, NY) as I was preparing for our talk. It seems he under-ordered your series. He said that the orders were low initially on the first issue. Then there was a big buzz and it immediately sold out. Now he’s having trouble getting more copies to sell.

CC:  I was at the Baltimore Comic-Con. I met a lot of people there who are excited to read it. I met a lot of shop owners. Some of them knew to order heavy on it. [They had the opportunity] to read previews of it. They had two issues to read if they checked it out.  Some knew that, based on their store, based on their readers, that they could order “Batman numbers” on it.

Things do get lost in the shuffle.  Hopefully the buzz on it is that it sold out, and people bought it and that people came around asking for it.  Hopefully for the second issue people won’t be caught without it.

I just wanted to tell a story. I just want people to read it, and I think there’s a big audience for it. I think that’s the kind of book that you can, when all is said and done, hand it to somebody how might not be at the stores every week.  It could be someone who’s last Batman movie they watched was Batman Returns in 1992. What you need is just a basic pop culture knowledge of Batman and Catwoman. Everything else just falls into place.

It is a blank slate situation: Her name’s Catwoman.  She’s a cat burglar and she wears a cat costume. And sometimes she’s involved with Batman. And that’s all you need going into it.

EC: Upon reflection, of course, Catwoman is oftentimes portrayed as a sexy, young woman in a skintight suit. In Catwoman: Lonely City she’s not a young woman. I think it may have been a brave decision for you to have an older protagonist in this book.

CC:  Yes, I thought it immediately makes you reassess her. It puts both the reader and the character in a different place. It’s a pendulum. There’s a history of her as the sexy ingenue and then her involved in more hard-boiled crime.

For me, I felt making her older and having her grapple with ageism and sexism would force you to see her differently.  And in some ways, to tone that down, so you could see her as a person. Much of the story depends on you relating to her and to her losses and indignities and how she suffers. And you can’t do that with someone slinking around and purring and all that stuff.

I think that’s all part of her history. You see that in a couple of issues, too, but she’s not that person anymore. It’s a little bit of playing a part at one point in your life and moving past it.

EC: Working with your editors, was there every a point where you were told “watch out someone else is doing something similar?” Doing something with characters like Catwoman or Killer Croc?  Or was this separate enough from everything else.

CC: A little of both. My editors were worried about something being similar to what just happened. But then, once we squared that away, everybody was really happy with the story. I think the realization was that: there’s an audience for this book is separate from the audience for other books.

And that’s okay. It’s a bigger project and it’s kind of more evergreen than whatever it is happening in the monthly book. There are things I wish, maybe, that had more novelty to them.  But we’ve seen that happen.  When I wrote this story – I came up with this story two years ago – there were elements that hadn’t appeared yet. That’s just the nature of the beast.

You think you are ahead of the curve. But you are not. You are just part of the Zeitgeist like everyone else. You can think you’re clever doing a book about adolescents in 1988 and then, two months later, after your book, Stranger Things comes out.

EC: This is more of a technical question.  You are a very thoughtful artist and you’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you feel as if you deal with editors differently now than you would have years ago?

CC: Probably. I’m on the same wavelength as the editors. And Black Label is open to creators taking changes and thinking about things differently.  So, it’s a pleasure. All the interactions and all the notes and suggestions from the editors make the story better. As an artist I can appreciate that end of it. It’s so great that I can’t complain about it.

EC:  Well, Cliff this has been fantastic.  Good chatting with you, I hope to see you in person real soon. Good luck with everything and best your family during this Yuletide Season.

CC: Okay, all right. Hey, thanks a lot and take care now.


Issue #2 of Cliff Chiang’s Catwoman: Lonely City, a DC Black Label book, is on sale December 22nd.

 

 

With Further Ado #175: Ed’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

With Further Ado #175: Ed’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Have you been good this year? I hope not. I strongly suggest you get into mischief all year and then clean up your act during the 2nd week of December. That’s been my operating procedure for years and it always seems to fool Santa. Unless he’s reading this column. Ooops!

Well, regardless, it’s time for my annual gift guide, which many readers automatically subtitle as “stuff I want to buy for myself.” That works too. Let’s not be judgey, shall we?


Kiddie Cocktails

Did you ever buy a gift for a child, and then decide to keep it for yourself because it’s so wonderful? Don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens to all of us. And it will probably happen again with this clever new book from Korero Press.

Kiddie Cocktails has a wonderful retro vibe – it seems like it jumped off the screen of a 1960s Drive-In (during the intermission) and became this incredible book. It’s as if it all starts with Shirley Temples and then just blossoms from there. There are brilliant recipes for all kinds of child focused cocktails, including The Blue Lagoon, The Golden Cadillac, The Dreamsicle and The Elephant Charger. And so many more.

This might just be the book we all need if we all do Dry January again, in fact.

Kiddie Cocktails
by Stuart Sandler Author, Derek Yaniger Illustrator
Korero Press
112 pages
ISBN-10‏: ‎191274015X

 


Is Superman Circumcised?

I wrote about this engaging book earlier this year, and what most impressed me was author Roy Schwarz’s focused and fan-friendly recounting of Superman’s history. And it wasn’t the straightforward deep dive that entertainment folks often do – this was nuanced and thoughtful. For example, here Superman’s comics history didn’t begin in Action and end in Superman comics. Schwartz thoughtfully explores the character’s appearances in other DC titles like Justice League and World’s Finest.

And it’s just been announced the winner of the prestigious Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of 2021. You can read all about it here.

Is Superman Circumcised?: The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero
by Roy Schwarz
McFarland
374 pages
ISBN-10: 1476662908


Pac-Man Birth of Icon

I was never that much of a Pac-Man enthusiast. In fact, I remember being impatient with my college pal, Dave Bloom, as he would always try to sneak in a “quick game” of Pac-Man before we’d go to Dunbar’s, our old “favorite bar”.

Likewise, I was perplexed when the new Comic Book Museum announced a Pac-Man exhibit early on. “Who cares?”, I thought. “It’s not really comics.”

After reading Terpstra and Lapetino’s new Pac-Man coffee table book I get it. This is an amazing recounting of the story behind the game. It’s a fascinating history of the video game business back in the day, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of the developers to do create something new and different.

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon
By Arjan Terpstra & Tim Lapetino
Titan Books
340 pages
ISBN-10: 1789099390


No Time To Die: The Making of the Film

The newest 007 thriller took so long to get into theaters. I remember showcasing this James Bond/Heineken Ad in class two years ago!  Some longtime fans, like my brother Colin and Professor Laurence Maslon, loved this movie. Others…not so much.

Either way- Mark Salisbury’s new book is sure to delight all fans. The pictures are gorgeous, and the insights are.. insightful. It’s always amazing just how much goes into a movie, a piece of entertainment that most of the world just focuses on for a couple of hours.  This impressive book helps us understand so many of the twists and turns that happened behind the camera.

This one is a perfect gift for anyone with room on their coffee table. Or maybe your own coffee table. But show a little class and don’t put your martinis on the book.  Use a coaster, will ya?

No Time To Die: the Making of the Film
By Mark Salisbury
Titan Books
192 pages
ISBN-10: 1789093597


Build the RMS Titanic

Let’s face it- some folks reading this column have too many action figures littering their homes and offices. And to be perfectly honest (after all, Santa is watching this time of year) I am guilty of that too.

Eaglemoss, the innovative company that you may know for their HeroCollector collections of things like Star Trek ships and DC Heroes, is rolling out something new.

It’s an authentic replica of the RMS Titanic.  It’s designed as an accurate 1:250 scale, and this is a build-up.  Each month, fans receive part of this massive model, and they build it bit by bit. Eaglemoss also sends a new Titanic magazine with every shipment too.

I love these Eaglemoss magazines, especially for Star Trek and Batman. They are always well-written and stuffed with engaging information.

The site explains how it all works here. I tend to like this kind of gift, as it “keeps on giving” all through the year.

Eaglemoss

LENGTH: 42.36 inches
HEIGHT (to top of funnels): 11.41 inches
WIDTH: 5.43 inches
MATERIALS: Wood, MDF, die-cast metal, brass and plastic