With Further Ado #101: Books for the Beach, Summer Reading

Although I’ve reverted back to being a “Lake Guy” rather than an “Ocean Guy”, after 25+ years sunning myself at the Jersey Shore, I still just love burying my nose in a book on the beach. What could be better?  Here’s a few of my recent favorites:


The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta
By J. David Spurlock
Vanguard Press
Trade HC ISBN13: 9781934331811  $39.95 • 120 pgs
DX LE ISBN13: 9781934331828  $69.95 • 138 pgs plus slipcase

There’s something about paintings and summertime that seem to go together. Is it true that we have more time during the summer and can enjoy art more leisurely?  I always tell myself that. But then again, I always tell myself that an occasional dessert won’t ruin my diet.

Vanguard’s new Frazetta book presents his “greatest hits”, and a few rare ones, in a spectacular format.  They are big and bold, and writer J. David Spurlock provides a virtual cornucopia full of backstories and the behind-the-scenes tales.  It’s a great way for long-time fans to celebrate a favorite or for new fans to get to know a unique American artist.

Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition
Originally by Robert M. Overstreet
Facsimile by J.C. Vaughn
Gemstone Publishing
ISBN: 978160360229 $25.00

When I was a kid, there was an ad in the local Pennysaver for old comics.  My mom was dubious, but she carted me, and the neighborhood kids, to meet this collector on Frazee Street in Auburn.  She was a little worried about it all, but in fact he became a great family friend in the ensuing years.

His home was filled with old comics and he was eager to sell them! What a treat. And to gauge the value of them all he used the Passaic Book Guide. You’ve probably seen the ads for it in old DC comics.  The idea was that it presented a fair representation of the current value of (almost) every domestic comic book.

But the Overstreet Guide as the gold standard, even in those days, has stood the test of time. I eagerly get each new one, not only for the prices but for the articles and the brilliant covers that Jeff Vaughn commissions each year.

The Queens of Animation
By Nathalia Holt
Little, Brown & Company
ISBN: 9780316439152 $29.00

The Queens of Animation offers a fascinating look at the early days of the Walt Disney organization focusing on the plight of the women artists.

Disney was an entrepreneur, and some of the standard entrepreneur themes shine through. It’s fascinating to read about how the early Disney studios recruited talent (Artists wanted! We’ll train you!) and the organizational woes of outgrowing their original company HQ.  I’ve learned that Snow White was a big hit, and the studio had trouble matching that success, as the next few features, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi didn’t deliver the same revenue.

Holt describes the trials and tribulations of women working in the studio. Typically, women were relegated to the Paint & ink department and the heavy-lifting creative work was left to the men.

“They talked about the problem of paint colors at tea-time, which the all-female department was treated to twice daily – a uniformed maid served them from a china pot, and an occasional platter of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies was provided. The department’s isolation was magnified in the new Burbank studio; it was housed in a building on the other side of the lot from Walt and the animation and story departments. The separateness of the building, complete with its own lunchroom and outdoor patio, soon led to its nickname: The Nunnery.”

But several women, including Retta Scott, Bianca Majolie, Mary Blair, and Grace Huntington, found cracks in that glass ceiling with a combination of talent, grit and moxie. While inspirational, there are plenty of sad twists and turns that each of these graphic pioneers faced.

I wish there were more photos of the women themselves as I came to know them, and a quite a few times I found find myself searching online for more details to augment what Holt reveals on the printed pages.

For example, Bianca Majolie was the creative dynamo behind Elmer the  Elephant, one of the earliest licensed Disney characters (right on the heels of Mickey Mouse). Despite the enormous popularity at the time, I had never heard of Elmer- but enjoyed the cartoon short on YouTube.  And Majolie never got the credit or acclaim she deserved; neither from the Disney organization of the day nor from history.

It’s frustrating to realize just how “far we haven’t come”, in many cases. Last week, former Batgirl writer Mairghread Scott revealed how she was excluded from important meetings while at DC Comics.

Holt’s book is an eye-opening and important behind the scenes look at so many Disney favorites, just as important today as it would have been in the early 40s.

Run Away
By Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 9781538748442 $16.99 Trade Paperback

Harlan Coben always delivers. And for the past decade or two, he’s been topping himself each time.  He has a masterful and fun way of writing thrillers that’s one part Hitchcock, one part Elmore Leonard, and one part brazen-Jersey-Boy.

Coben is especially adept at keeping up with technology advances, as his characters become just facile enough with the latest way we all use our phones and apps so that it all seems real and of-the-moment.

This one has quite a few surprises. The secondary characters don’t end up where you’d expect them to end up, and the big reveal is clever and satisfying in a way that can’t help but shake you up.

At the end of every Harlan Coben book, I always find myself saying “Where’s the next one? I want to read it now.”

Antonio Barreti & Louis Schaeffer’s Goldtiger : The Poseidon Complex
Presented by Guy Adams & Jimmy Broxton
ISBN 978 1 78108 471 7
Published by 2000 AD / Rebellion

I didn’t get a copy of this when it came out a few years ago, but I am glad one of my daughters just gifted it to me for my birthday. Goldtiger by Antonio Barreti and Louis Schaeffer was a favorite and almost-forgotten strip of the 60’s, featuring the Mod and mad adventures of Lily Gold and Jack Tiger. This volume presents their first adventure,  The Poseidon Complex, along with commentary, promotional materials, paperback covers and backstory on the bickering creatives.

Or does it?

Spoiler Alert: The gag is that Goldtiger never existed, and this whole thing is a Blair Witch Style project. It’s all done with a straight face and they never really pull back the curtain. It’s absolutely brilliant and when you stumble across a copy, buy it immediately.

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Enjoy the sunshine and I hope you get the beach early and often this season. Just don’t forget to stay socially distant and use plenty of sunscreen.