Category: Books

With Further Ado #193: Book Review – The Set-Up

With Further Ado #193: Book Review – The Set-Up

If you like boxing and old film noirs, you might know the movie The Set-Up. Directed by Robert Wise, it’s an impactful film about struggle, grittiness and aging all wrapped up in the knowledge you are just “one punch away from being the champion.”

This book isn’t exactly like that.

As it turns out, the story’s original writer hated the film version. Author Joseph Moncure March was a New Yorker born into wealth. He worked hard to understand, and write about, the “real” world and the common man. He is best known for his earlier work, The Wild Party. This story, first published in 1928, is told as a long poem. It is about a black fighter’s battles in and out of the ring.

The author described it as “the story of a Negro fighter who has already been defeated by race prejudice, but doesn’t know how to stop fighting.”

Korero Press, the UK publishing house that is always stretching to try creative new projects, has just published a new version of The Set-Up. It’s a cross between a graphic novel and a heavily illustrated epic poem. It has the feel of a lost treasure one would find on a back shelf of some forgotten bookstore. And yet, somehow it seems crisp and new.

The art is a big part of the experience. Erik Kriek is a powerful modern-day illustrator. He’s based in Amsterdam, and maybe that’s why I’m not familiar with his work.  He has illustrated graphic novels (including In the Pines and Creek County) as well as children’s books. Continue reading “With Further Ado #193: Book Review – The Set-Up”

With Further Ado #192: A Fantastic Mystery

With Further Ado #192: A Fantastic Mystery

Two different pals recently recommended two different books to me. I ended up really enjoying both recommendations and strangely, reading them both at the same time made the experience all the better.

Professor Laurence Maslon recommended Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel to me, and I’m glad he did.  The Professor is not only a Broadway expert (check out his recent NYTimes story here) but a comic expert too. You may have enjoyed his Superheroes! A Never-Ending Battle Documentary, which ran on PBS a few years ago.

This is an engaging coffee table book, celebrating the first issue The Fantastic Four and the birth, in many ways, of Marvel Comics.

As you could infer from the title, this book showcases each individual panel of the 1961 comic. But Chip Kidd, one of my favorites, and Geoff Spear, add in a little zing to it all.  No panel is pristine. Each one is a little off kilter. Some in the cropping, some in the colors, some in other ways. Kind of just like the original comic was first presented, and read, all those years ago.

Several smart comic folks, including Mark Evanier, provide additional thoughts and focus on this important comic. It’s an enjoyable package. Continue reading “With Further Ado #192: A Fantastic Mystery”

With Further Ado #190: Grinning With Gilbert

With Further Ado #190: Grinning With Gilbert

Don’t we all need a little more cheer in our lives?  I sure do, and that’s why I love Art Baltazar’s work.  Gillbert #4: The Island of Orange Turtles is the talented writer-artist’s latest Papercutz book. As usual, it’s impossible to read without grinning from ear to ear.

I’m happy that comics has bestselling authors like Dav Pilkey writing Dog Man and Cat Kid and Jeff Kinney churning out his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Their dominance of the bestseller lists is impressive and encouraging.  Publisher’s Weekly’s John Maher provided a solid overview here earlier in the year.

But for whatever reason, those authors don’t really connect with me. But I am an older comic fan; they don’t need to. Or shouldn’t, really.  I tend to gravitate to the work of writer-artists like Art Baltazar, Franco Aureliana and Frank Cammuso because of (a) their very public passion for comics and (2) kids dig their books. I love reading their books and gifting their books to young readers.

As a kid, the “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, or the Gill-Man, was one of those iconic images that we embraced whenever we wanted to scare the bejeezus out of ourselves. He might have been a half-step behind Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Werewolf, but he was still up there.

So, if Pilkey can adapt classics like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls to YA bestsellers, it makes all the sense in the world that Baltazar can adapt old Universal monsters like The Creature from the Black Lagoon into an upbeat smile-fest of a story.

And that’s what this is. How fun is it to follow Gillbert and his friends on their adventures?  Baltazar (as a creator and as a person) always embraces the urgency and importance of every childhood adventure. And it’s all wrapped up with colorful, outrageous artwork, solid storytelling, and crazy names.

Go, go Gillbert!

 

Gillbert #4: The Island of the Orange Turtles
By Art Baltazar
Published by Papercutz
88 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 1545807183
Reading Age: 7 to 12
Grade Level: 4 to 6

Available from Amazon on 4/19/22.

With Further Ado #186: Green Hornet Buzz

With Further Ado #186: Green Hornet Buzz

For comics fans, it’s always a balancing act between wallowing in nostalgia and finding something fresh or different.  Amazingly, author Jim Beard pulls this trick off with the new book The Green Hornet: How Sweet the Sting, published by Moonstone. It’s a clever adventure that, on one hand, is 100% true to the source material, and the other, reinvents the franchise as a crime novel.

This thriller has the feel of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal series, but mixed in with a liberal dose of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.  It’s grittier than I expected. But like a rollercoaster, it’s fun, exhilarating, and frightening – all at the same time.

Kato and his boss Britt Reid, who is secretly the Green Hornet, come across as just a smidge more badass than I expected. And then I was surprised to find the protagonist isn’t the Green Hornet, but an ex-Special Forces soldier who gets dragged into a life of crime.

Beard also brings one of the unsung heroes of The Green Hornet to center stage. Lenore Case, often called Casey, is given a realistic depth and warmth that she seldom exhibits in Hornet stories. Now that I think about it, the last time Lenore Case was this interesting was in Mark Waid’s clever Green Hornet series, published by Dynamite about ten years ago. (Tempus Fugit!)

In The Green Hornet TV show, she was played by Wende Wagner. Billy Wilder, while filming Some Like it Hot, discovered her when he saw her swimming.  She started as an underwater stunt double in TV shows like Sea Hunt, but soon moved on to movies including Rosemary’s Baby and Rio Conchos.

Like a magician who doesn’t show you all his tricks, Beard’s Casey is struggling on many levels, and readers, who are all in on the Green Hornet’s secret identity, are left to piece together exactly what’s going on.

Beard cleverly deals with several aspects of the Green Hornet mythology that don’t make sense, like Kato’s lack of a super-hero codename. As an author, he not only ponders the questions but also provides credible solutions.

Beard’s respect of and love for the source material is palpable. This story is built around several episodes of the TV show. For hard core fans that’s great, but for casual fans it doesn’t detract in the least.

Jim Beard has also been busy in the William Dozier-verse. His latest book, with Rich Handley, is OOOFF! BOFF! SPLATT! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Three. It’s the third in a trilogy, as authors take deep dives into each episode of the old Batman TV program. Rumors are swirling that there may be another entry to this series, although it’s not clear how he’d pull that off. *

Moonstone’s been experimenting with slimmer books and shorter stories. It’s such a pleasant change from the long books I usually read. I motored through this one in just three days. And like visiting a high-end restaurant with small, delicious portions – I felt totally satisfied.

I’m a member of the Men’s Adventure Paperback group, and we all agree that strong cover art is an important part of the total experience. Joel Naprstek provides an engaging painting.  One thing I’m not clear on is why Moonstone didn’t the use that classic Green Hornet logo for the cover, but did use it on the inside pages.  Maybe a trademark or licensor issue? But that is a minor quibble at best.

This story exceeds the original series – but it’s almost impossible to not imagine Al Hirt’s trumpet playing the classic theme song as you read it.

The Green Hornet: How Sweet the Sting
by Jim Beard Author, Joel Naprstek Cover Artist
Moonstone
130 pages
ISBN-13‏: ‎9781944017262

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Full disclosure: I’m a contributing author to this series.

 

With Further Ado #183: Rocket Time! 5 and a Half Questions With Rian Hughes

With Further Ado #183: Rocket Time! 5 and a Half Questions With Rian Hughes

It looks like Korero Press has another fantastic book coming out soon: Rayguns and Rocketships is by ace designer Rian Hughes. It’s a celebration of old Sci-Fi book covers from the ’40s and ’50s!   Here’s the official teaser copy:

Rayguns and rockets! Spacesuited heroes caught in the tentacles of evil insectoid aliens! Who could resist such wonders? Science-fiction paperbacks exploded over the 1940s and ’50s literary landscape with the force of an alien gamma bomb.

Titles such as Rodent Mutation, The Human Bat vs The Robot Gangster, Dawn of the Mutants and Mushroom Men from Mars appeared from fly-by-night publishers making the most of the end of post-war paper rationing. They were brash and seductive – for around a shilling the future was yours. The stories were often conceived around a pre-commissioned cover and a title suggested by the publisher, and the writers were paid by the word, and sometimes not paid at all. Titles were knocked out at a key-pounding pace, sometimes over a weekend, by authors now lost to literary history (plus a few professionals who could spot an opportunity) who were forced to write under pseudonyms like Ray Cosmic, Steve Future, Vector Magroon or Vargo Statten.

Despite the tight deadlines and poor pay, the books’ cover artists still managed to produce works of multi-hued, brain-bending brilliance, and collected here is an overview of their output during an unparalleled period of brash optimism and experimentation in publishing.

Rayguns and Rocketships just launched on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. A signed limited edition, a deluxe hardcover in a slipcase and a regular trade edition discounted from the retail price will all be available to backers. Fans and pop culture lovers can back this on Kickstarter now!

Rian Hughes is an award-winning graphic designer. I like to use his book on logos in my business classes, in fact. I found some time to catch up with him with my 5 ½ questions:

QUESTION 1: I’m so excited you’ve created this book. Why hasn’t this been done before and what’s the story behind it?

RIAN  HUGHES: It began as a cataloguing project. Without really trying, I’ve accumulated something of a collection of vintage SF paperbacks since I found Rodent Mutation at a jumble sale way back when I was on my art foundation. After a few decades of picking these things up, you find you have quite a few shelves worth. I scanned them in and did a prototype book via Blurb (print on demand service) a few years back, mainly for my own amusement. Yak at Korero Press, whom I’d previously collaborated on ‘Logo-a-Gogo’ with saw it, and here we are. Continue reading “With Further Ado #183: Rocket Time! 5 and a Half Questions With Rian Hughes”

With Further Ado #182: Oral History of Star Trek & Catching Up with Ed Gross

With Further Ado #182: Oral History of Star Trek & Catching Up with Ed Gross

When teaching a class one day last semester, I had to use Spotify on my laptop which is then projected onto the big classroom screen.  A student noticed that one podcast I listen to is Inglorious Treksperts.  It’s a fun show that’s a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of the original Star Trek series.  Not really about the trivia of Star Trek mythology, but rather insights into how things really got made. For example, where else can you hear stories from the casting director of Desilu?

My student surprised me by explaining he listened to it too!

I guess there’s an interest in the early days of Pop Culture. In fact, I just enjoyed both Being the Ricardos on Amazon Prime and TCM’s The Plot Thickens podcast focusing on the life story of Lucille Ball. And I’m not really a big I Love Lucy fan, either.

I’m so glad I finally read The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman.

It’s an incredible book with dialog from all the key players who were there, as they recount and ruminate on how things happened. Sometimes they are even contradictory and a bit contentious. I caught up with co-author Ed Gross and he had so many insights to share!


Ed Catto: I’m fascinated by your “oral history” format, and it feels so natural and authentic. I’d even venture to say that it’s the perfect format for presenting differences of opinion. How would you describe Oral History, and can you comment on the pros and cons of this format?

Ed Gross: The way Mark Altman and I have frequently described the oral history format is that it’s like gathering a couple of hundred of your closest friends and having an in-depth conversation about something.

The truth of the matter is that I’d barely been aware of the format prior to our writing The Fifty-Year Mission, which we started in 2015. Mark brought the idea up to me and suggested that I read Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live from New York and Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks’ I Want My MTV, which I did. Well, I instantly fell in love with the format. For starters, I found them so damn readable; you could pick them up any time you wanted and effortlessly start where you left off or bounce around and still have a satisfying reading experience.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #182: Oral History of Star Trek & Catching Up with Ed Gross”

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 #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 #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

 

Brainiac On Banjo: Make Room! Make Room!

There once was a science fiction writer named Harry Harrison. He is best known as the author of “Make Room, Make Room,” which was turned into the 1973 movie Soylent Green, starring Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, and that guy who says we can take his gun out of his cold dead hands now.

The story was about overpopulation and how there was no space for anybody to live, eat or, ironically, procreate. It was set in 2022. That’s 22 days from now.

Harrison also was a comic book and comic strip writer, and much of his artwork – for EC Comics and others – was inked by Wally Wood. He wrote the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1950s and his s-f novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, was adapted into a long running series in the UK weekly comics 2000 AD.

I agree with his story’s message. In fact, I do not believe we have a shortage of any natural resources per se. I believe we have a massive overabundance of human beings. This planet wasn’t built to house and feed 7.9 billion people (as of November 2021). Indeed, the number of humans who stalk the Earth octupled in the past 200 years. Make room, indeed. And never forget: soylent green is people.

Not everybody agrees with me. For example, take Elon Musk, a man who has been dramatically unable to pull his rabbit out of his hat.

Yes, he’s the guy behind the Tesla, the wonderfully named, vastly overpriced and pathetically underperforming wondercar that is supposed to eliminate the need for both gasoline and drivers. Someday it might do that, maybe, perhaps… but thus far it is one of the most recalled automobiles of this century. Thus far, his six-figure four-wheeler has killed at least 221 people (source).

His SpaceX company appears to be more successful – unless you’re paying attention to Elon Musk. A couple weeks ago, he told his SpaceX employees that his Starship engine crisis is creating a “risk of bankruptcy.” Start updating your résumés, kids!

So it is with some amusement that I find Elon’s latest pronouncement that “so many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers – if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words.” He said this at the Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council while he was promoting his newest baby, the Tesla Bot, which, according to Musk, is a “generalized substitute for human labor over time.”

More people but less human employment. This is a billionaire’s stickiest wet dream.

I should note Elon has six children. Well, at least he puts his, ahhh, dick where his mouth is.

The global birthrate fell by 4% in 2020, and it’s been slowly declining for the previous 60 years. To me, this sounds like great progress. Slow progress, to be sure, but slow enough to be in Elon’s comfort zone. Except it isn’t.

Musk also notes “it is important for us to die because most of the times, people don’t change their mind, they just die… If they live forever, then we might become a very ossified society where new ideas cannot succeed.”

I’m not exactly sure how he came to this conclusion as it’s not backed by anybody’s experience, but I can make an educated guess as to which orifice had incubated his speculation.

Bottom line: P.T. Burnum put on a better show.