Monday, June 30, 2008

I Review Schwartz's Superpowers

That sounds like a vaudeville setup, but I really did review the novel Superpowers by David J. Schwartz.


An Opportunity Smartly Not Taken

I just remembered this, and what is blogging for if not to share minor passing thoughts?

In the new Get Smart movie, there's a moment when it would be utterly appropriate -- and reasonably funny -- for someone to say "You can't fight in here; this is the War Room!" I can't believe that line never was considered, and yet it doesn't appear. The movie is stronger without it; it has a clear reference to an older movie without hammering it home (like so many movies and other media do these days).

Restraint is sometimes hard to notice, but it should be celebrated when it appears.

Boing Boing Deletes Person, Clams Up

Via Blog of a Bookslut, I learn that Boing Boing has deleted all references to sex writer Violet Blue, and has refused to comment on the deletion.

It does seem to go against everything they stand for, so I hope an explanation will be forthcoming. I don't think this is a sign of massive sexism, or the End of Journalism, or any of the other unlikely things in that linked post, but blogs are tricky things. Just because you always can change old posts doesn't mean you ever should.

I would have thought Boing Boing would have a policy of transparency for themselves, since they demand and agitate for such policies elsewhere. They regularly decry Orwellian control-of-information tactics, stonewalling, and Stalinist declarations of non-personage when other people do it...

Reviewing the Mail, Week of 6/28: Comics

And this is the yin to the previous yang; here I'll list, and try to explicate, all of the things that came into the Hornswoggler home last week that were comics in one way or another.

I'm going to start with things I paid money for, because I wanted to draw particular attention to this first book:

The third collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's manga to be translated and published by Drawn & Quarterly is Good-Bye, and it's in stores now. I reviewed it at ComicMix when the galleys circulated, and probably didn't adequately describe how special Tatsumi is. He's one of the greats of world comics, with stories by turns shockingly raw and evocatively quiet. His stories aren't just good for manga, or good for comics -- they're great short stories, period.

Skyscrapers Of The Midwest is a title I don't know much about -- it's by Joshua W. Cotter, published by Adhouse Books, and seems to be a collection of (linked?) anthropomorphic stories. But I've heard good things about it, and my comics shop had it marked down, so I'll give it a whirl.

Lobster Johnson Vol. 1: The Iron Prometheus is another brand extension of the mighty Hellboy empire -- probably the last one to make it into into stores ahead of the new Guillermo de Torro-directed movie -- and it's written by Hellboy and Lobster Johnson creator Mike Mignola, with art by Jason Armstrong. (Actually, the credit reads "story by Mignola," which may mean that Armstrong worked from an outline and acted as his own scripter.) It was published by Dark Horse sometime in the very recent past.

Fables Vol. 10: The Good Prince is the latest in the modern fairy-tale-inspired fantasy series, written as always by Bill Willingham, with art by Mark Buckingham and (mostly) Steve Leialoha. As I remember, the series is still continuing, so this isn't the big finish, but it looks like a major piece of the story of the battle between the Adversary -- who conquered most of the alternate worlds of fairy-tale characters before the series began -- and our main characters in the expatriate community of New York.

In the same world, but with a somewhat different tone, is Jack of Fables, Vol. 3: The Bad Prince. It's about one of the less heroic characters from the main series, off having his own adventures. (I have no idea if the seemingly linked titles mean these two stories have anything to do with each other, though I do expect to find out soon.) The Jack of Fables series is written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, and the pencil art in this book is mostly by Tony Akins, though there are four others credited with part of the pencils and inks. This is also from DC, as one would expect, and it was published within the last month.

PvP Volume 5: PvP Treks On os the yes, fifth collection of the webcomic PvP, which is by Scott Kurtz. Image publishes the webcomic as a monthly comic book, and bills their collected books (like this one) as collections of the comic books, without even mentioning the Internet once. The direct market really is its own little parallel universe, isn't it?

I've been looking at Erotic Comics: A Graphic History from Tijuana Bibles to Undergound Comix the last two or three times I hit the comics shop, and went so far as to pick it up and look through it last time. And this time I finally admitted to myself that I was interested enough in the subject to buy the thing, and so I did. It's by Tim Pilcher, with Gene Kannenberg, Jr., and has a foreword by Aline Kominsky Crumb. Harry N. Abrams, which is a classy, serious publisher of art books and whom I trust has kept the whole proceedings as tasteful as possible (under the circumstances) published Erotic Comics in February. (What I'm hoping is that its as interesting and fun as Bob Adelman's Tijuana Bibles of a few years back.)

And the last thing I picked up at the comics store -- literally, just before I got on line to pay for my huge stack of good stuff -- was the first two volumes of Chica Umino's Honey and Clover manga series. I've already got a copy of the movie that was adapted from this series, and I hope to review the whole package for next week's Manga Friday column for ComicMix.

Now, on to the things that actually did come in the mail:

Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole, which Top Shelf will publish in September, is a big original graphic novel -- the pages aren't numbered, but I'd estimate it's over 200 pages long -- with some kind of supernatural element in it. There are a lot of bugs, on the cover and throughout. (And I can't help wondering if this Powell pronounces his name the way it's spelled or like Anthony Powell -- if the latter, it would rhyme with the title. These are the kinds of things I think about when I see new books...)

Jeff Lemire's Essex County Volume 3: The Country Nurse is also from Top Shelf, but it's publishing slightly later, in October. As the title probably clued you in, this is the third of his graphic novels to be set in his ficionalized Essex County (of Ontario, Canada), after Tales from the Farm and Ghost Stories. This book follows one day in the life of a traveling nurse in a farm community -- I think I recognize her from Ghost Stories, so perhaps this book is meant to tie together the first two volumes.

CMX Manga -- now as always an imprint of the mighty DC empire -- sent me two sets of photcopies with their usual secrecy. (They never have a cover letter, or even a tip sheet/fact sheet/sell sheet to say when the book is being published and the pertinent information -- even the most professional comics publishers seem to struggle with the things that seem simple in trade publishing.) First is Kikaider: Code 02, Vol. 7 by Ishimori Shotaro and Meimu, a science-fiction story with robots -- giant ones, I think -- and the usual accouterments. It will be published in on July 9th and is marked for Mature readers.

Also from CMX is Suihelibe!, Vol. 1, a title which I'm having the greatest of difficulty in spelling correctly (and consistently). It's by Naomi Azuma and seems to be a combination of a school club story and a cute girl from space story. (And I'm sure there's an official Japanese manga term for both of those things, but I don't know them.) This one is a bit further in the future, coming in late October. As befits a series with characters who seem to be about nine years old, it's rated E for everyone.

Manu Larcenet's Ordinary Victories: What Is Precious, collects what were the third and fourth graphic novels in the "Ordinary Victories" series in France -- the first two were published in the US as just Ordinary Victories in 2005, and ended up on Time magazine's list of the five best graphic novels of the year. It's a semi-autobiographical story about a photographer dealing with family issues, and NBM is publishing it in August.

Also from NBM is Bluesman by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo, which collects a series originally published in three volumes only a few years ago. It's set in the '20s and about a couple of black musicians in the South -- so I don't expect it will be a terribly happy story. This new complete edition of Bluesman will be published in August.

Vittorio Giardino's No Pasaran!, Vol. 3, is the finale of a trilogy, and the latest book about Giardino's series character Max Friedman, a spy in '30s Europe. NBM will publish it in August.

Slow Storm is the first full-length graphic novel by 2007 Eisner nominee Danica Novgorodoff, a story about tornado season in Kentucky and about a woman firefighter and a Mexican immigrant. It will be published by First Second in September.

And last for this week is the Rick Geary adaptation of H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man, second in the new Papercutz Classics Illustrated series, and publishing in August. This adaptation first saw print in the great, but short-lived CI series from First Comics in the late '80s, but somehow I missed it then (even though I was buying Rick Geary stuff on sight, and most of the First CI books as well).

Reviewing the Mail, Week of 6/28: Not Comics

Once again, the comics part of the mail is too big to fit into a reasonable-size post with anything else, so it'll be broken off by itself, slightly later. And what I have here is:

Brandon Sanderson's The Hero of Ages, third and final book of "Mistborn," coming from Tor in October in hardcover. This series has been acquired by an editor who's a friend, it's gotten excellent reviews, and Sanderson has even been tapped to finish Robert Jordan's last, unfinished "Wheel of Time" novel, which is about as big a vote of confidence as a writer can get. But I haven't yet read the previous books, so I can only give you hearsay -- people I trust say these books are good, and now the trilogy is complete, for those of you who wait for that.

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks in mass-market paperback, July. The interesting story for me here is that it's a mass-market by Vintage, an imprint that's used for that format only very rarely. It's the second novel in a don't-call-it-SF series, which has not caught the Zeitgeist in quite the way it hoped to. (Though there's something mid-90s about this series, with people "off the grid" has the heroes -- that's more X-Files than 24; we generally prefer our heroes to be finding and torturing the people off the grid these days.)

The Last Realm Book One: Dragonscarpe is an absolutely immense piece of heavily-illustrated fiction by Pat McNamara, Michal Dutkiewicz and Gary Turner, published by what looks like a brand-new press, Angel Phoenix Publishing. I'm not sure if this Gary Turner is the same as Golden Gryphon's Gary Turner -- this one is described as a publisher and musician -- but it's possible. It's a very major, professional-looking thing to come out of nowhere, and I wonder what kind of distribution they're getting for it. I've only just started poking at it, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. There's a corporate copyright -- D.R.E.E.M. TV Pty. Ltd. -- which may indicate that it's being funded by someone-or-other's money in hopes of becoming a big media event. (Or it may just indicate that the three creators have incorporated to keep it all straight.) If any of you have the chance to look at this in person, take it.

I'll mention one book I got from the library just because: John Varley's Rolling Thunder. Varley's been writing vaguely Heinleineque young adult SF novels for the past few years -- which has felt a bit like slumming after his great '90s novels Steel Beach and The Golden Globe -- but getting a new Varley novel nearly every year is still a wonderful thing. This one is the third in the loose series with Red Thunder and Red Lightning; I'm not sure why nothing is read this time. (Perhaps he's referencing one of my favorite old video games? Stranger things have happened.)

And last is the book that excited me the most this week: Kage Baker's The House of the Stag, a new fantasy novel set in the world of The Anvil of the World. Tor will publish it in September. I don't know much more than that now, except that I want to read this if I can find any time at all.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Buying In by Rob Walker

Since I'm now working as a "Marketer" rather than an "Editor" -- leaving aside the argument of how much what editors do is marketing -- I thought I should spend some more time and thought on what marketing is these days, and how to reach the people I want to reach.

So I grabbed Buying In when I saw it at the library; I'm somewhat familiar with Walker's work from his "Consumed" column in The New York Times Magazine, and I figured I could trust him as much as I could trust any business-book author. The subtitle is "The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are," and it's another one of those books that tries to describe contemporary American consumer behavior and figure out what it all means. (Walker describes his "Consumed" column as a "blend of business journalism and cultural anthropology," which also describes Buying In pretty well.)

Buying In, in a nutshell, starts with the conventional wisdom that brands are dead and that advertising no longer works -- since consumers are more savvy, have more options, and are more independent than they were in the past -- and examines it. Along the way, Walker digs up some great quotes -- including what I think was a Business Week article from 1939 -- about how consumers are "now" radically different than they ever were before. His point is clear: this supposed huge, recent shift is something that marketers have been dealing with for close to a century now; it's not new.

Walker is polite, and never quite says that conventional wisdom is bullshit, but he's obviously thinking it. As usual, the reality is more complicated and nuanced than the PowerPoint version -- there's always an audience that considers itself too sophisticated to be influenced by advertising, and that audience (in this modern, media-saturated age) is now a great majority. But saying that advertising and marketing don't influence you is not the same as making it true -- and Walker dives into studies that prove that.

He's got some individual jargon -- the Pretty Good Problem, "murketing," the influencer -- but he explains it all well, and they're all important to his points. He also has done a lot of research, particularly with interviewing entrepreneurs in the "alternative" area, like American Apparel's Dov Charney, to find out their thoughts, plans, and schemes.

Walker's big idea is that consumers are actually more interested in brands than ever before, but they're not passive followers of brands the way they used to be. One of his case studies is the way hip-hop appropriated Timberland boots for their own purposes, and how the company struggled to understand and deal with their new audience. Over and over, Walker points out that the consumer base for a product is not necessarily a single one, wide and deep, but different pieces of a fragmented consumer culture -- in Timberland's case, both urban hip-hop musicians looking for a certain look (and their fans, both urban and suburban), and blue-collar workers who need tough shoes with steel toes.

I tend to think of myself as someone more resistant than the norm to marketing efforts -- but, then, nearly all of us do. (As Walker puts it, most people think that they're smarter, better looking, and more savvy than most people.) Buying In is a great book for consumers interested in their relationships with the things they buy, and an even better one for marketers trying to connect their products to the people that would want and use them most.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Movie Log: Get Smart

My sister-in-law took the two boys for a sleepover on Wednesday night -- mostly because The Wife is in a stretch of about two weeks where she has to be at the store nearly every minute it's open (while the owner is doing various other things). Since kid-free nights are rare, we jumped on the opportunity to go see a movie and have dinner (at Thatcher McGee's, probably the best restaurant in my home town of Pompton Lakes).

The movie was Get Smart, since the reviews said, essentially, that it was a good spy movie with a lot of funny stuff, too. (As opposed to being a parody or spoof of a spy movie.)

They were right. What they didn't mention, or maybe I just missed, was precisely how gorgeous Anne Hathaway is these days, particularly in the evening gown she wears about halfway through the movie. (In that outfit, she also wears a very Barbara Feldon-esque wig, which was a nice touch.)

To give the other side equal credit, Steve Carell is one of the few modern actors who looks completely at home in a suit, and he's not unattractive himself. (Now if I could only remember his follow-up line when he was talking about the "hot guy in the bathroom.")

Get Smart is very nearly as good as it could be: Carrell and Hathaway are both perfect in their roles, and Alan Arkin is a Chief just as grumpy (but slightly more active) than Edward Platt's. Most of the rest of the cast is good as well, though Terence Stamp seems to be trying too hard now and then as Siegfried and the two gadget guys are clearly only in this movie to tie in to their own direct-to-video spin-off.

The script gets all of the old catchphrases in just enough -- nothing is beaten over the head, and it all comes up perfectly in context. Carrell isn't trying a Don Adams impression, but he falls into a similar cadence much of the time -- he's playing the same character, not miming.

(And it was great seeing Bernie Koppell briefly, but I did wonder why Barbara Feldon didn't cameo. Everyone else from the old show is dead at this point, though it also would have been nice to have Mel Brooks and Buck Henry show up in one or two shots.)

Now, pardon me, I'm off to see what Anne Hathaway movies I might have missed...