Category: Books

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

As the pandemic wreaked havoc on life and so many marketing promotions and businesses this past year, there was one retro-idea that gained traction: Drive-Ins.

I love Drive-Ins. We had two in my hometown growing up, and I have clear memories of seeing so many films there.  When I became a parent, I took my girls to the Drive-In once a summer. We all had a ball. I don’t remember the movies all that well, although Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds and an Austin Powers movie come to mind.

Before Covid, Pop-Ups were becoming a hot marketing tool. It seems as if so many of the ideas behind Pop-Ups just migrated to all the 2020 Drive-ins.  And hey, as long as everyone was having fun and staying safe, it sounds good to me.

So it’s appropriate that the last book of 2020 I spotlight is all about a Drive-In: More Better Deals published by Mulholland Books.  It’s from a favorite author, Joe R. Lansdale,  and is another bumpy ride in a beat-up car on the back roads of noir fiction.

Many feel that Double Indemnity is the pinnacle of Film Noir. If you’re one of those folks, then this thriller, which has so many similarities, will lead you to inevitable and excruciatingly delicious, comparisons. Continue reading “With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?”

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith, 256 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (print), $8.73 (digital)

Well, better late than never. When Nobody’s Fool was announced I got all excited, thinking this was a great idea from the one human on Earth best motivated to produce it. It came out about 18 months ago, I had ordered it from my friendly neighborhood comic book store, they never received it, and the whole thing faded from my brainpan. Maybe I was thinking I’d run into the editor Charlie Kochman at one convention or another — Charlie has no home and simply wanders from one convention to another.

Anyway, to make a long story tedious, I saw him a bunch of times but I didn’t put the arm on him, which is very unlike me. Finally, a little lightbulb lit above my naked pate and I went online and bought the thing. I read it yesterday, as I write this, and I’m writing this today. So you’d figure I must have liked it, right?

Well, I did. Books do not age, only readers do. But enough about me.

Almost 50 years ago, cartoonist Bill Griffith introduced his best-known and most beloved character Zippy The Pinhead in the underground comic book Real Pulp Comix #1; it was a romance story… kinda. I’d already been a fan of his work, and I thought telling a love story about a microcephalic was real gutsy. Of course, in 1971 we didn’t grasp the concept of political correctness the way we do today, but I’ll have more to rant about that anon.

The character took off and Griffith did a whole lot more Zippy The Pinhead stories. Fourteen years later, William Randolph Hearst III asked him to do Zippy as a daily strip in his San Francisco Examiner. This is amusing but not shocking; his grandfather (William Randolph Hearst-the-First) loved comic strips and was the guy who green-lit George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, which set the standard for non-sequitur humor.

Peculiarly, after Zippy’s inclusion the Examiner’s readers did not gather around the building with pitchforks in protest, so the following year Hearst-the-Third saw to it that his King Features Syndicate picked it up and pushed it nationally. Wiki says it’s in 100 newspapers, which is remarkable for a strip that doesn’t make sense to many and stars a pinhead. It’s also remarkable that there are 100 newspapers left these days, but that’s another story and a bleak one at that.

That same year I had moved to Fairfield County Connecticut, then the place to be for newspaper cartoonists. I got to know dozens and dozens of them, and I’d say these folks only had one thing in common: not a one understood why King Features picked the strip up. More than a few seemed resentful; the late great Gil Fox, one of the funniest and most courageous people I’d ever known to sit at a drawing board, once asked me to translate Zippy The Pinhead for him. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy”

With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back

With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back

Back in the day, I was a big fan of Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. I liked hard-boiled fiction (and still do), but this comic was different.  Somehow Collins and Beatty took everything that private-eye fans liked, jumbled it all up and delivered a new series that seemed fresh as a counterfeit sawbuck and as enticing as a nightclub singer’s over-the-shoulder wink.

Collins and Beatty developed a rapport with the readers, and soon we all began to understand the stuff that influenced their work on Ms. Tree.  Soon it become clear that it all started with the hard-boiled detective author Mickey Spillane, although there was a little Dragnet in there too.  They also revealed they were influenced by a 50s Private Eye comic series, Johnny Dynamite.

Johnny Dynamite was a character who – “ahem” – borrowed many of the attributes of Spillane’s detective, Mike Hammer. Ms. Tree comics reprinted the old Johnny Dynamite  stories, and the character Johnny Dynamite even ended up crossing paths with Ms. Tree. Eventually, Collins and Beatty created a new Johnny Dynamite mini-series (with great Mitch O’Connell covers).

And it’s taken a while, but now, in the summer of 2020, there’s an explosive new Johnny Dynamite collection just published by the good folks at Yoe Books. It’s a stunner.

I reached out to Max Allan Collins to provide some details: Continue reading “With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back”

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time / I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer — Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964

The first time I was able to have a conversation with the late Representative and true American hero John Lewis was about six years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con. It was during set-up so the room was comparatively open and, as I was attempting to locate my booth I saw Representative Lewis behind a table. His name was on the sign behind his table — “Congressman John Lewis.” I did one of those patented Tex Avery eyeball takes.

I previously had been at the Heroes Convention at the Charlotte North Carolina Convention Center. A bunch of older white guys were walking around wearing suits that, each, could feed a family of four for three months. In the midst of that gaggle was Sarah Palin. I looked around to make sure I was at the right place because I could not believe these folks were there to add to their Funko Pops collections.

I was right; the state Republican Convention was upstairs and the comic-con was downstairs. The white men in their expensive suits looked disgusted but, to be fair, they always look that way. Sarah saw the cosplayers and beamed a megawatt smile. So you can’t say I’ve never said anything nice about Sarah Palin.

But this time, the statesman at hand was there for a comic book show. Considering he worked in Congress, seeing a couple thousand people dressed up as The Joker (including babies) was just another day at work. I approached him, he offered me a seat, and we chatted about the relationship between comic books and political organizing. It was one of those “holy crap” moments that make life wonderful.

Rep. Lewis did say I was the first to recognize him at the show. I laughed and said “Oh, just wait until the show starts.” He looked skeptical, but my prediction quickly came to pass: that was just about the only time during the show that I could see him clearly from the aisle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior”

With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late

With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late

It’s a big year for Ray Bradbury. Fans of this incredible author are celebrating his centennial.  Later this month, in fact, San Diego Comic-Con will feature him on the cover of their Souvenir Book* with a gorgeous William Stout illustration.  It’s appropriate as Bradbury was a frequent guest and attendee of Comic-Con. (And artist Will Stout is one of the few people who has attended every San Diego Comic-Con.)

During this centennial, the prolific author, Bradbury, is very much on the mind of an industrious fan named David Ritter.  Ritter kind of joined the party late, he admits. He started getting serious about Bradbury when he turned fifty, although he read E.E. “Doc” Smith and H.P. Lovecraft growing up.

But now, he’s making up for lost time, and he’s working hard on the First Fandom Experience. Here’s how David officially describes the effort: Continue reading “With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late”

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

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.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #101: Books for the Beach, Summer Reading”

With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book

With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book

There’s this photo that’s posted on a museum website that makes the rounds on the internet from time to time. It shows a modest drafting table and a dingy chair in an unglamorous office.  It’s nothing fancy.  And at first glance, one might be inclined to think that the artist it belonged to would never create anything imaginative or enduring.  The space is so uninspiring. But it belonged to Jack Kirby. It’s almost hard to reconcile that so many brilliant ideas sprang from the imagination of one man, despite his meager studio.

But then you realize that all the fancy tools and studios don’t matter. It’s all about the personal creativity and the discipline of an individual.

That’s one of the reasons I am so enamored with this new book: Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics. This one isn’t about the fancy tools needed to create. This is not a how-to about getting a fancy new software program, or even formatting scripts in one particular way. This new book gets to the heart of things and provides solid, useful guidance in memorable ways.

Paul Kupperberg is a long-time comics author, having written so many of my favorites.  I was excited to see him sharing his insights. After reading this book, I asked him about his fresh approach. Continue reading “With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book”

With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)

With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)

Let’s start with a beer. Shall we?

In the old days, Miller Lite TV Commercials presented the world as one big party for adult men. The long-running, phenomenally successful marketing campaign featured retired sports stars laughing, drinking and teasing one another. It was kind of a secret fraternity that wasn’t so secret. Anyone could join, and all you needed was Lite beer. It was fun, playful and good natured.

Among all the sports stars, two decidedly non-sports celebrities stood out – comedian Rodney Dangerfield, enjoying a bombastic second act to his career, and mystery writer Mickey Spillane.

Mystery writer Mickey Spillane? Really? We think of celebrity fiction writers, and it’s hard to conjure up their image.  F. Scott Fitzgerald? James Patterson? What do they look like? I guess most of us know what Stephen King or J.K. Rowling look like. Maybe we all would recognize Hemingway or Truman Capote.  But America was drinking beer and kidding around with one particular writer. Mickey Spillane was in our living rooms –  during every commercial break – when we were watching sitcoms and ball games, for years and years. Continue reading “With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)”

With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)

With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)

I like a lot of detective heroes found in books, movies and TV shows. Part of the fun of an adventure with any of Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Pete Fernandez, Spenser, or Myron Bolitar is that I think it would be fun to hang out with that guy.  Even the heroes who are a bit prickly, like Sherlock Holmes or Stumptown’s Dex Parios, would still be a riot to run around with for an adventure or two. They are all so likeable.

But I never used to like Mike Hammer, the toughest of the tough guy detectives.  I knew he was a big deal and his novels, written by Mickey Spillane, were successful. I would learn later that, at one point, Spillane was the world’s best-selling author, having written seven of the top ten best-selling novels. It turns out that it happened was when he had only written seven novels.

Yes, this guy Spillane was seven for seven. Incredible, right?

I think that, initially, the character Hammer was just too brutal for me. He gave the bad guys what they deserved, however gruesome.  He always “colored outside the lines” of both the legal system and good taste. Unlike that classical 1930s and 1940s detective who would walk down those mean streets like a modern day knight of the round table, adhering to a personal code of honor, Spillane’s Mike Hammer took it way over the edge.

But my perception changed when I started reading the “new” Mike Hammer novels.  After an incredible writing career, and second act in a long-lived Miller Lite advertising campaign, Mickey Spillane left behind a treasure trove of partially-finished stories, and story ideas, that he only trusted one man to finish – Max Allan Collins.

Max Allan Collins has emerged as one of the top mystery writers in his own right. He’s incredibly prolific, and it’s astounding that he never seems let his level quality slip; not in any of his novels (Nate Heller, Quarry), comics (Ms. Tree, Batman), adaptations (CSI, Criminal Minds) and comic strips (Dick Tracy, Batman.) You might also know he was the guy wrote the brilliant graphic novel, The Road To Perdition, which also became a movie starring Tom Hanks. Continue reading “With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)”

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Famous 1st Edition #C-63, New Fun Comics #1, published by DC Comics, 2020, in hardcover $19.99.

The very first thing that impressed me about the release of Famous 1st Edition #C-63, the first in four decades, is that the subtitle below the logo is “Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series.” Holy crap! It’s Limited, it’s Platinum, it’s also Mint… and it’s a series?

So I looked it up. DC published a bunch of “Famous First Editions” reprinting the first issues of most of the usual suspects: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash Comics, All-Star Comics. Don’t ask me to explain how their numbering system worked; I figured it out with the intent of explaining it, but my head still hurts and it really isn’t important. The number isn’t on the cover, and, anyway, there can’t be a second Famous 1st Edition edition of New Fun #1. What I did’t realize, or maybe I forgot, is that before this Famous 1st Edition Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series book DC had published issues as “Golden Mint,” “Silver Mint,” “Bronze Mint,” and Blue Ribbon series, the latter doubtlessly just to piss Archie Comics off. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!”