Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew

Comics, in their modern American form, are so inextricably tied up with licensing that even projects that have no need to hire someone else's intellectual property end up doing so. I could speculate about why this is true, but it is clearly the case.

Take this book: Wonderland, a sidebar story to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which was originally published in 1865 and has been in the public domain since before I was born (and before this book's creators, Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew, were, as well). There's no reason to pay anyone to use the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, and so forth -- they're now our common cultural heritage, like Ahab, Hamlet, Roland, and Gilgamesh. But comics are a visual medium: so what happens if you want your versions of these characters to look like the hegemonic animated movie version from your youth?

Well, in that case, then you'll need to pay up. And so Kovac and Liew did -- well, the exact details of the licensing agreement are none of my business, but this book is copyright Disney Enterprises and it was published by Disney Press (after a run as individual comics from SLG). But, except for the details of the character designs, this could have been a non-Disney product -- whether it could have had a higher, or lower profile in the market, or existed at all without Disney backing, though, it's now impossible to say.

Wonderland tells the story of a different girl in that fantastical land: Mary Ann, for whom the White Rabbit originally mistook Alice. She's the Rabbit's housekeeper, but, in the wake of the destruction wrought by "the Alice Monster," the Queen of Hearts is on the warpath (more than usual, even), and Mary Ann and her rabbit employer are soon running away at high speed to keep their heads. The two of them have adventures with all of the characters fans of the movie would expect -- the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter and his tea party -- but also with plenty of non-movie folks, including the Jabberwock and the Queen of Spades, drawn in Liew's version of the Disney style.

Liew's art is deeply charming, and cartoony in the best ways, as usual -- but, with not too much tweaking, it could have avoided the Disney look entirely, so, again, I do have to wonder if that connection was entirely necessary. Well, it may have been commercially necessary, but it clearly wasn't artistically necessary.

Kovac's story is equally charming -- he's not as inventive or distinctive as Carroll, but, then, who is? He makes Wonderland into a engaging and lovely pastiche of Carroll's works -- somewhat thinner and flatter than the original, certainly, but still well worth reading for Alice aficionados. But Liew's lovely watercolor art is the real draw here: I'd love to see him illustrate a new edition of the Alice books, or adapt them directly to comics, using his own designs.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Incoming Books: March 23rd

Yes, that date is not a misprint; these books have been sitting on my desk for an entire week. I was away for part of last weekend, but I don't otherwise think I was that busy -- and, yet, here it is Friday again, and they're still sitting there.

(I know I don't have to blog books coming in, but I enjoy it, and it's an easy post -- and I'll take every easy post I can get.)

Anyway, there was a library book sale in the next town over -- the bucolically-named Riverdale, which narrowly missed being the home of Archie & Jughead by being so small that they send their teenagers to my town's high school -- and I found a short stack of paperbacks for fifty cents each. They're nearly all old or odd editions, which also interests me for the usual publishing-geek reasons:

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. This is one of her Jackson Brodie mystery novels, which began with Case Histories, a book I've now purchased twice without yet reading. I grabbed this hoping it was the second one, which it might be -- I'm really not sure. What I have is the UK Black Swan paperback, and I can only speculate how that found it's way to suburban New Jersey.

Arthur & George was a major novel by Julian Barnes -- I think it won an award or two -- back in 2005, and I got a hardcover of it then but didn't manage to read it. Yadda yadda yadda, flood waters rose, and now I've got a new copy. Amusingly, this is a QPB edition, which means I could have gotten it free back then from my then-employer -- actually, I think I did get the copy I had back then for free in a bookclub hardcover, so I'm now literally paying to get things I used to get free. (This is surely a fallen world.)

People have been praising Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter since 1986, when it was originally published as one of those oh-so-80s Vintage Contemporaries, with the field of dots and the silly sphere-on-a-placemat logo. (And I just now am thinking that I want to collect those old Contemporaries, since I love that look -- I wonder if there's a list of them anywhere online?) And what I have here is that 1986 edition of The Sportswriter, slightly foxed and with a remainder mark on the bottom edge but otherwise in good shape for its age.

The Good Fairies of New York is a novel by Martin Millar, and there was a copy of the 2006 Soft Skull edition on the shelf at the Montclair Book Center -- where I'm most likely to browse books -- for ages and ages, which I picked up and looked at a couple of times but never bought. (It may still be there.) I think Good Fairies has had a new edition since then, but here's a nice copy of that Soft Skull edition, and now it's mine.

I probably wouldn't have bought David J. Rosen's I Just Want My Pants Back if I'd known that a series based on it had been picked up by MTV (a fact I discovered while googling for a cover image). That may make me shallow, but still vastly less shallow than MTV's target audience, so I still come out ahead. It's a comic novel set in modern twentysomething Manhattan, and the author nearly shares a name with an old colleague of mine, which might be why I first picked it up. Even bad comic novels are harmless, and the best are sublime, so I try to encourage them when I can.

I Have the Greatest Wife in the World

She just texted me:
Heard today was national cleavage day. Keep a look out
And, in honor of this great day, have a relatively work-safe image from the first page of a Google search for "cleavage":

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Yet Another Neat Thing My Forward-Looking Employer Has Wrought

If you've read Antick Musings much at all, you know that I'm fond of widgets. And who wouldn't be? They actually do stuff -- sometimes even useful stuff -- and they're called widgets.

So I was thrilled to see in my e-mail this morning that my employer, the mighty house of Wiley, has created a widget for linking to our books. "But, Andy," you might say, "other publishers have done this before, so it's no big deal."

Ah, but are those publishers global? I bet they aren't. Nearly everything Wiley publishes is available everywhere in the world, and so our landing page detects where a user is, and lists bookselling options local to that user. Can your other publishers say as much?

Anyway, the main point of these is to allow authors to post nice little snippets of code on their webpages to show off their books, but there's no reason that only authors can get into the act. If you're enamored of Applied Polymer Rheology, show your love!

For example, here's a book I've worked on, which I think is both deeply neat and underloved:

All you need to create a widget of your very own is a Wiley ISBN and this here website. Go on, it's fun!

Monday, March 26, 2012

This Year's Playlist for Thing One's Birthday Trip

Every year since at least 2008, we've gone to Great Wolf Lodge -- this one, out in the Poconos near New York and Philly -- for Thing One's birthday, to swim and do family stuff for a couple of days in lieu of a big party with other kids. (Because what fourteen-year-olds -- and ten/eleven-year-olds before them -- really want is a big kid birthday party thrown for them by their parents!)

I've also created a playlist and burned it to a CD for each of those years, and I thought I'd been sharing some of those playlists (I also do 'em for the big summer trip to Hershey Park, and other occasions) here. This may not precisely be true, but, if I do it now, it can always start a tradition.

It also lets me play with Amazon widgets, which is always fun. And, this time around, only one of the songs on the "Great Wolf 2012" playlist -- "Blood Red Blood" by The Ettes, which should be at #3 of 23 on this one -- was unavailable for widgetizing. So here's most of what we were listening to in the car on the way back home earlier today:

There's Any Such Thing As Grieving

I've made no attempts to be topical here, so I don't feel a need to comment on specific news stories when they come around. (Editorial Explanations is my spot for politics, anyway, and even there the point is to illuminate the slant rather than the truth.)

But the story of that unlucky, murdered young man Trayvon Martin keeps coming up, and it keeps reminding me -- reminding all of us, I hope -- that we're not as post-racial and tolerant and balanced and upright as we like to think we are. Sure, it's never fair to extrapolate from one story, but this one is so reminiscent of so many other stories.

And what it keeps reminding me of, is this quintessentially sad song by Sinead O'Connor, about another dead black boy -- under completely different circumstances, of course, except for being pursued by men convinced that a black man couldn't possibly be as innocent as he actually was -- and how there's always another death to remind us that things don't really change:

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/24

Hey! This is a weekend chock-full of Family Stuff -- yes, I am very busy lately, which is why this blog has been infrequently updated, thank you very much -- so, once again, I'm happy I only have a short stack of books to quickly tell you about.

Again: these just arrived, sent by publishers to me and, presumably, to an indeterminate number of other bloggers and other "media" folks. I haven't read any of them yet. Here's what I do know.

Kieli, Vol. 6: The Sunlit Garden Where It Began, Part 2 appears to be the latest installment in a light novel series by Yukako Kabei. In my (limited) experience, light novels usually are more like novels -- in that they have individual titles, and stand basically alone -- than like manga volumes -- which are numbered, and usually continue the same story -- but this one could definitely be the exception. The title character is a young woman, I think basically normal, but in this book her "spirit [has been] cast adrift," and she's experiencing the youth of what I think are the two men she's in a love triangle with: Harvey and Ephraim. (I'm assuming this is an Edward-and-Jacob thing rather than a James-Potter-and-Severus thing, but I could very easily be wrong.) Anyway, this was published by Yen, it's out right now, and, if it sounds interesting, you really want to find the first book and begin there.

I have here the first two books in a fantasy time-travel series -- I want to say "trilogy," since the author's two previous serieses [1] were both trilogies, but I don't know that for sure -- by Mark Chadbourn, under the names Jack of Ravens and The Burning Man. In this series, called Kingdom of Serpents, "Jack Churchill, archaeologist and dreamer, walks out of the mist and into Celtic Britain more than two thousand years before he was born," and then of course gets caught up in capital-E Evil on his way back home. They're both from Pyr; Jack was published March 20th and Burning is coming April 3rd -- and I expect that means that, if there are further books in the series, we'll see those very quickly as well.

And next is the greatest idea I've seen in a long time -- a graphic novel by Dave Roman and John Green with the title Teen Boat! The hero -- from a quick glance, he's always just called Teen Boat, or TB -- has the fabulous ability to transform from a teenage boy into a yacht and back, leading to the awesome tag line: "The Angst of Being a Teen! The Thrill of Being a Boat!" This looks like a hoot and a half; I hope to get to it really soon. It's published by Houghton Mifflin's children's division, and will be available in early May.

And last this time is Daniel H. Wilson's new novel Amped -- I don't think it's officially young adult, but it is a near-future dystopia about a young-ish protagonist (29, in this case) on the run from an oppressive future society that Hates Him For What He Is. (What He Is is "amped" -- he has a medical device implanted in his brain, ostensibly to control his seizures, and the Supreme Court, as it does in dystopian future societies, has just declared that the amped are Not Human, to be rounded up like mutants, or uglies, or hunger games tributes, or {insert your comparison of choice here}.) I'm old enough to find those kinds of dystopias dull, but Amped also promises some kind of super-powered conflict between the amped and the normals, and I'm always up for that. (So there could be echoes of Wild Talent, or Beggars in Spain, or Brain Child.) This one is coming from Doubleday in early June.

[1] I insist that this is a real word, and I will continue to use it. So there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do You Know How Geeky I Am?

​So​ geeky that I actually explained mandatory audit firm rotation to my wife the other night.

Probably not the kind of geeky that you expected, though.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Incoming Books: March 17th

Somehow, I managed to get through all of Lunacon without buying a single book from another dealer -- I was tempted by a SFBC omnibus of The First Chronicles of Amber, with the great Ron Waltosky cover that I commissioned, but I managed to stifle the urge [1] -- perhaps because I secretly knew that my order from the great remainder dealer Edward R. Hamilton was waiting for me at home. And, in fact, it was.

So here's what I did buy from that fine purveyor of cheap entertainment:

E.C. Segar's Popeye, Vol. 1: "I Yam What I Yam!", the first in the excellent, gigantic series of books from Fantagraphics reprinting one of the great comic strips of the 20th century.

A clutch of books from Overlook Press's lovely, wonderful "Collector's Wodehouse" series -- Love Among The Chickens, The Code of the Woosters, Summer Moonshine, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, and Piccadilly Jim.

Ellen Forney's Lust, reprinting a bunch of cartoons illustrating smutty personal ads from the website of a Seattle alternative weekly. (I think I've looked at Forney's other book, I Love Led Zeppelin -- I know I've seen her work somewhere.)

Patently Silly, a book about weird patents, published by the Lyons Press, with which I used to do a lot of business, back when I was buying books about hunting & fishing, and by a guy named Daniel Wright.

Talking Lines, a collection of cartoons by the New Yorker artist R.O. Blechman -- who would be worth reading just for that spectacularly wonderful name, but is also an excellent cartoonist to boot.

Secret Identity, the Craig Yoe-edited book of bondage and other smutty art by Joe Shuster, who -- as you know, Bob -- was the original artist for and co-creator of Superman.

And Flesh and Fire, the first book in a fantasy series that's gotten quite good reviews -- and it's by Laura Anne Gilman, whom I've vaguely known for longer than I want to remember and whose books I've felt vaguely guilty about not having read for nearly that long.

[1] If I try to seriously start to rebuild what I had before the flood, there will be no end of it.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/17

Things have been quiet around here for a few days, as I was preparing for and then attending Lunacon, and this post itself will probably be relatively short, since I just got back and have all of the usual weekend stuff to get done in two or three hours. Luckily, this is another one of those three-book weeks, instead of the ones with huge stacks.

So I'll take it as read that you folks know the usual disclaimer -- these books arrived my mailbox; I haven't read them since then; here's what I can tell you -- and jump right in:

Commedia della Morte is the latest "Comte Saint-Germain" novel from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, of which there must be umpty-ump by now. (They started in the '70s -- we had a bunch in the SFBC back when I started, twenty years ago -- and there have been more at irregular intervals since then. There's a list on Yarbro's website with 23 Saint-Germain novels, five more in related series, and that only goes through 2009.) I have read none of the books in this series, in which the historical conman was actually the immortal vampire he claimed to be, but plenty of people whose tastes I trust have recommended them. This one is a Tor hardcover, just published.

One of the rules of publishing is that you always have to mix things up -- if a series has usually been published as single volumes, then its time to do an omnibus, and if it's been in one big fat volume, then it's time to break it up. Following that guide, Vertical is republishing Osamu Tezuka's Dororo -- originally published by then, a few years back, as three separate volumes (all three of which I reviewed) -- as that one big fat volume this month. It's a samurai comic by one of the greats of world comics, so it's at least worth a look.

And then there's Beth Bernobich's Queen's Hunt, which is the second book in her "River of Souls" series (after Passion Play) -- it's epic fantasy with what looks like a strong romantic overlay  (or underlying superstructure, perhaps). That's coming from Tor in July in hardcover.