Category: Books

With Further Ado #236: Double Fisted Action and Few Laughs

With Further Ado #236: Double Fisted Action and Few Laughs

January is a great month for reading, wasn’t it? February is too. So, here’re three wonderful books that you should know about.


The Big Bundle
By Max Allan Collins

It’s so good to start the year off with another Nate Heller thriller. Like so many in this series, this mystery is brilliant. It’s hard to believe, but about 35 years ago I stumbled across Max Allan Collins’ first story featuring Heller. I had enjoyed the Ms. Tree strip, written by Collins and illustrated by Terry Beatty and Collins’ Batman adventures (although not everyone did.)

Nate Heller is a fictional detective, a hero yet a flawed person full of many regrets, who typically gets involved with the biggest cases and personalities in the last 50 years. Collins has written stories where Heller gets involved with the gangsters who ‘created’ Las Vegas, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Marilyn Monroe’s death, Huey Long’s assassination and more. And just when you think Collins has exhausted all the good stuff, the next novel comes roaring back.

The latest historical adventure, The Big Bundle, has a lot of roar in it. This one focuses on the Greenlease kidnapping in the 50s. I didn’t know anything about this one, and I don’t know much about St. Louis’s history, despite visiting the city a couple of times. My trips there were nothing like Heller’s, though. He gets into it all in a way that turns what you thought was going to be a casual read into a “I can’t put this down” book.

These Heller books are meticulously researched with juicy details. I found myself pausing to run down little rabbit holes along the way. For example, Heller rides the historical landmark Angel’s Flight. It was described in such a way that I had to learn more about this narrow gauge funicular railway. When I’m reading, I usually like to leave my cellphone in the other room, but with this Heller mystery, I had to keep it handy for additional research. Collins tends to introduce me to so many fascinating places, events and people.

As a writer, Collins always finds innovative ways to describe people and settings. This is a crime thriller to be sure, but I often pause at the clever descriptions. For example.

The hero walks into a diner and Collins gives the reader something to think about and to remember:

”The bedraggled adults in booths and at tables were like predictions of how the town’s teens would turn out.”

Or earlier in the novel, as Heller meets a key character:

“In his mid-thirties, my host was of average height and weight with a squared-off head and a rounded jaw, his forehead so high it was like his features had slipped down too far on his oval face.”

After reading a novel like this, my pal Mike Gold used to always make the joke “If you only read one Max Allan Collins novel this month, make it this one.” The gag still holds up and it’s truer than ever.

Title: The Big Bundle
Author: Max Allan Collins
Publisher: Hard Case Crime (Titan)
Hardcover:‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 1789098521
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1789098525


Levon’s Prey
by Chuck Dixon

Back in the day, it seemed like you could “always” pick out a Chuck Dixon comic story because it would open in the middle of an action scene. That wasn’t always the case, but it seemed like it. And despite that, I always loved Dixon’s writing for his nuanced, tight-lipped characters more than his action scenes. He’d always get to the heart of the matter and then present it all in a way that you’d not forget anytime soon.

Levon’s Prey is the latest in long series. It’s subtitled as “A Violent Justice Thriller”, and that’s truth in advertising. It’s actually the second latest, as I’m one book behind. The 11th, Levon’s Range, was published late last year.

I almost wish the books were published in the old paperback format – so you could put them in your back pocket and carry them with you. They are each a quick and compelling read – the kind that make you smile, make you worry and make you cheer on the good guys.

And as a father of daughters, I especially can relate to Levon. Although I’m not nearly as tough as Levon. Not by a longshot.

Title: Levon’s Prey
Author: Chuck Dixon
Publisher:‎ Rough Edges Press
Paperback: ‎ 174 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 1685491219


The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle
by Wayne Federman

Auburn Public Theater hosted USC’s Professor Wayne Federman recently. As an expert in comedy and standup, he gave a greatly abbreviated version of his USC course to a local crowd. It was fascinating. I liked it so much I wanted to fly to LA and figure out a way to audit the course. And I don’t even consider myself a stand-up enthusiast.

His book, The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle, was eye-opening. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Stand-Up. Oh, I guess I’m pretty good with understanding the radio comedians, and guys like Steve Martin were where it was at for me and my gang back in the day. I think I bought my brother a Steve Martin LP for Christmas one year because I wanted to listen to it.

Federman, who as you can imagine is hilarious onstage, keeps it light, bright and fascinating. This was an enjoyable read and never once did I have the urge to ask, “Is this on the final?”

Title: The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle
Author: Wayne Federman
Publisher: Independent Artists Media
Paperback: 180 pages
ISBN-13:‎ 979-8706637026
ASIN:‎ B08YRP1R2G

Pour a glass of your favorite beverage, put your feet up and enjoy a little reading.

 

With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review

With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review

Before we “cut the cord” for TV, we really enjoyed spending a chunk of New Year’s Day watching The Twilight Zone Marathon on the SyFy channel. They show episode after episode. There’s something special about being immersed in Rod Serling’s alternate realities for more than just the usual ½ hour episode. There’s a creepiness, and a paranoia and sense of reflection that ensnarls your brain. You begin to look at the world a little differently.

If you are like me, you almost expect Rod Serling to be standing off to one side, in your living room or kitchen, smoking a cigarette, and intoning some clever little summary that usually ends with the phrase “The Twilight Zone”.

Reading Jason Starr’s thriller, The Next Time I Die, is like spending a few hours in the Twilight Zone. It’s compelling, thought-provoking, more-than-a-little creepy and wickedly delicious.

As this thriller is published by one of my favorite imprints, Hard Case Crime, it’s more mystery/noir than science fiction. And that works fine. Like the best Film Noir thrillers, there is a sense that you, as the reader, are plunged into a nearly out-of-control situation and you’re hurtling along at 100 mph. Continue reading “With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review”

With Further Ado #229: Bullet Train – The Art and Making of the Film – Review

With Further Ado #229: Bullet Train – The Art and Making of the Film – Review

To me, movies are still a big deal. I’m still stinging from that Christmas two years ago when Wonder Woman ’84 “ruined” Christmas. And this summer, seeing Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen was a real treat.

I missed seeing the stylish thriller, Bullet Train, in theaters, but just enjoyed it at home. Wow – what fun it was. (In some ways, it seems like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt may be the last movie stars.)

This is a stylish adventure movie about several assassins, all doing assassin-y things, on a high-speed train in Japan. And boy is it slick! This tightly woven story is from a Japanese book by Kotaro Isaka, although western audiences can enjoy the translation from Sam Malissa. Continue reading “With Further Ado #229: Bullet Train – The Art and Making of the Film – Review”

With Further Ado #228: 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 2

With Further Ado #228: 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 2

Like an overstuffed Christmas stocking, there are so many great gifting options that we’re spilling into Part 2 this week! Here’s some more wonderful and wonderous ideas for you all:


Being Bond: A Daniel Craig Retrospective
by Mark Salisbury

I often tell a family story from 1973. My mom wanted to take my brother and me to see the animated movie version of one of her favorite books Charlotte’s Web. My dad was less than excited about this family outing. He incredulously asked my mom, “You want to take these kids to see a movie about a pig?!?”

Instead, he whisked the whole family to the Auburn Palace Theater to see Live and Let Die, which was the latest James Bond thriller. It was my first encounter with James Bond. My head exploded. I think my brother Colin’s head exploded too.

This movie opened with M and Moneypenny visiting 007’s apartment (flat?), They haven’t been able to reach Bond and an Italian Special Agent is missing.

They knock on the door, and the camera cuts to James Bond being awakened and checking his digital wristwatch. This was months before digital watches were commercially available, and it was so cool to me.

And unbeknownst to his boss, James Bond also had that Italian special agent in his bedroom. She was beautiful and naked. Even as 10-year-old, I thought, “Gee, I’d like to have a beautiful naked Italian secret agent in my apartment someday.”

The point is that half of the fun of a James Bond movie is imagining what it would be like to be James Bond. Daniel Craig is one of the few men who actually got to be James Bond, and this book, Being Bond by Mark Salisbury, is a celebration of Craig’s turn as the iconic character.

This coffee table book has stories, gossip, bios and synopses and ephemera. It is packed with so many gorgeous photographs that it’s almost easy to overlook the movies’ storyboards. I find them fascinating. It’s another way to enjoy the story in the making, as we, as fans, toggle between the storyboards and the films.

I also really enjoyed the bits where author Salisbury pulls back the curtain to reveal how each of the Craig 007 movies got made. It was surprising, to me, how many breadcrumbs and lost bits of one film end up getting baked into the next movie. Continue reading “With Further Ado #228: 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 2”

With Further Ado #227: Ed’s 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 1

With Further Ado #227: Ed’s 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 1

Ok, I may not have been perfect this year, but I promise I’ll be really good for the rest of this year and all of 2023.

Yeah, yeah – you’re right. I’ve been telling Santa that line for quite a few years. I don’t think he’s buying it. I hope you’ve been able to behave this year, though, because there’s so much wonderful stuff out here! And that’s just what this Annual Gift Guide is for – to help you put a few things on your radar. Items that would be wonderful for gifting ..or suggesting to your loved ones as gifts for yourself. Let’s jump into it, shall we?


Frazetta Book Cover Art: The Definitive Reference
By J. David Spurlock and Frank Frazetta

Publisher :‎ Vanguard
Language ‏:‎ English
Hardcover :‎ 168 pages
ISBN-10 ‏:‎ 1934331848

Clear some room on that coffee table, Vanguard has a new book out and it’s a beauty! This lovely volume chronicles artist Frank Frazetta’s book and paperback covers. Each cover is packed with dramatic tension and skilled artistry. And just about all of the covers are moody and memorable.

I’ve been a Frazetta fan forever, and our our trip to the Frazetta Museum fueled my fanboy flames. Author J. David Spurlock shares his knowledge of and respect for Frazetta in an entertaining and enthralling manner. A book like this is magnificent to flip thru once, twice or a million times.

Here’s the official sell copy for this brilliant book.

This new 2022 Frazetta book follows last year’s hit, Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta and is similar to Vanguard’s earlier Frazetta Definitive Reference book…this new book is devoted solely to the artist’s single, most beloved venue, Book Cover Art. By focusing on this specific area, the book boasts room enough to feature every single one of Frazetta’s famous and highly collectable illustrated book covers, beautifully and authentically reproduced at a larger size on a page to itself. All are presented in chronological order which, gives readers a unique ability to follow Frazetta’s evolution as an artist. Accompanying text includes commentary, original publication titles, publishers, dates, and rare quotes from the artist himself. For this Definitive Reference to feature the Complete Collection of Frazetta’s decades of book cover illustrations, in a single beautifully produced volume, is a dream come true for Frazetta fans, art and book collectors and historians alike.

I’m don’t think I’m usually that big a fan of slipcovers, but in this case I am. This slipcover is sturdy and durable, and it shows off a lesser-known book cover – and it’s exceedingly fantastic. Continue reading “With Further Ado #227: Ed’s 2022 Annual Gift Giving Guide – Part 1”

With Further Ado #226: See You at San Diego – A conversation with author Mathew Klickstein

With Further Ado #226: See You at San Diego – A conversation with author Mathew Klickstein

When I say I love history, I don’t just mean I like to read about ancient Rome and the Revolutionary War. There’s so much more out there, and Mathew Klickstein has provided a doozy. His newest book, See You at San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom and the Triumph of Geek Culture is a deep-dive history of San Diego Comic-Con. It’s informative, insightful and great fun. So, as we prepare for the With Further Ado’s Annual Holiday Gift Guide (it’ll be published next Wednesday), let’s use this interview with Mathew as a sort of “Gift Guide Eve” column!


Ed Catto: I’ve really enjoyed your book See You at San Diego Mathew. But then again, I’m really into the history of comics and geek culture. Is this book only for people like me?

Mathew Klickstein: I appreciate it, and also appreciate the question. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “challenge,” but I’ve been doing my best to get the word out not only about the book but the fact that it’s not merely about San Diego Comic-Con, Comic-Con, or even “just” comics or what some people might call “comics culture.”

I think it’s for a much wider audience for the reason that the book is in fact an oral history of fandom and pop culture nostalgia itself – over a century’s time – as told by those who made a lot of it happen. We did focus our narrative on the prehistory, history, and expansion of what turned out to be the largest pop culture convention worldwide according to Guinness: and that’s Comic-Con. Otherwise, the book would’ve been 50,000 pages instead of 500.

Seeing everything through the lens of the rise and conquest of Comic-Con helped narrow the story … but, like Comic-Con itself, it’s really about everything in the geek culture or pop culture scene.

EC: This book has such a unique design. How did it all come about?

MK: The principal praise for our eye-catching, immersive, and dynamic design has to of course first and foremost go to our genius designer, Jonathan Barli. I told him as soon as I saw the first proofs that I would always make sure to mention him and ensure people knew who was most responsible for it. Continue reading “With Further Ado #226: See You at San Diego – A conversation with author Mathew Klickstein”

With Further Ado #225: The Rayguns and Rocketships of Rian Hughes

With Further Ado #225: The Rayguns and Rocketships of Rian Hughes

You can almost smell the stale greasy fumes in the air and the hear the metallic thrumming of the engines as you flip through the pages. This is space travel – 1950s style.

This space travel has more in common with a submarine than a Tesla or SpaceX. These spaceships are more like typewriters and lawnmowers than your iPhone.

The clunky space suits are cumbersome and ugly, except when worn by women. Then the unitarian suits somehow transform into slinky, formfitting fashion statements, hugging every curve of the women’s 50s hourglass shapes.

The brave astronauts of this day never dreamed of apps or coding, all they needed was a space-wrench, whatever that was, and a blowtorch to build or fix their spaceships in between intergalactic oil changes.

This is the vision of a sci future…from the unique vantage point of seventy-plus years ago and from the “other side of the pond”.

Ace designer Rian Hughes has done it again! His latest book, Rayguns & Rocketships, published by Korero Press is a space-age treat. In fact, the back cover of this book displays a logo/badge on the back signifying it to be a five-star Retro Scientific Thriller –complete with a “thumbs up”. This logo, presumably designed by Hughes, couldn’t be more spot-on. Continue reading “With Further Ado #225: The Rayguns and Rocketships of Rian Hughes”

With Further Ado #224: Lost DC Logos!!

With Further Ado #224: Lost DC Logos!!

My favorite logo designer is a brilliant gent named Rian Hughes. I’ve been a fan for years, and I’ve even been a client. (He designed our Agendae logo.) His book on logos is brilliant. He’s created many big company logos and comic logos. I keep his book on my office bookshelf and always trot it out when I need some creative inspiration. Longtime readers will even remember I featured his book in my very first With Further Ado column.

And I just received Hughes’ newest book Rayguns & Rocketships, published by Korero, which I will be reviewing in a future column.

But this past weekend, we went to another vintage book sale and rescued some more treasures. (I’m developing a nice Big Little Book collection, in fact.) One treasure was an oversized coffee table book, Milton Glaser: Art is Work, celebrating legendary designer Milton Glaser. Continue reading “With Further Ado #224: Lost DC Logos!!”

With Further Ado #221: Book Review – Tarzan, The New Adventures

With Further Ado #221: Book Review – Tarzan, The New Adventures

Tarzan is one of those characters that has been illustrated by all the top artists in comics:  Foster, Hogarth, Manning,  Frazetta, Vallejo, Adams, Kubert, Buscema and so many more.  And that’s not even counting the more recent modern titans like Wheatley, Yeates and Jusko.

It would seem almost inconceivable that any fan could get excited by any more Tarzan artists. But that’s exactly what happened to me with Tom Grindberg’s work on Tarzan: The New Adventures

This hardcover volume collects the weekly strips that the Edgar Rice Burroughs group had been publishing on their site. They had developed weekly online comics that felt like they were torn out of the Sunday newspapers, but designed to capture some of the excitement of digital comics from decade ago. ERB created strips for so many of their properties – from popular characters like Tarzan (I think he had two strips actually) to lesser-known characters like the Mucker, in an impressive series by Ron Marz and Lee Moder.

Full disclosure: ERB is a past client and I like the company quite a bit. I touched upon these webseries a few years ago in a column here.

Here’s the official description from ERB of this collection: Continue reading “With Further Ado #221: Book Review – Tarzan, The New Adventures”

With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro

With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro

Every fan or collector is always hoping to stumble across some treasure that everyone else has overlooked.  Why-oh-why can I never find a mint copy of Fantastic Four #1 at the local garage sales?

It wasn’t Fantastic Four #1, but when I found Chasing After Zorro by Britt Lomond at a local church’s local book sale last month, I did find something special.  This is an actor’s recollections of his time on the 1950s Disney TV Show Zorro. Lomond played the bad guy in the first couple of seasons of this show.  (Although I learned that Walt Disney had wanted to cast him as the hero originally.)

Disney+ just put this Zorro show up on their streaming service, and you know what? It’s pretty good!  To celebrate this, I excerpted a few chapters of the book in last week’s columns.  And as it turns out – it’s very difficult to find a copy of this book.  Collectors have seemingly paid several hundred dollars to get their hands on a copy.

So in response to fan requests (I think from fans who have been looking for this book for a while), I wanted to excerpt a little more of  Chasing After Zorro. Here’s Lomond’s thoughts on episode #2, entitled “Zorro’s Secret Passage”. It’s kind of the story about how Zorro sets up his version of the Batcave: Continue reading “With Further Ado #220: More Chasing After Zorro”