Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Comics: The Complete Collection by Brian Walker

This is indeed a large book, but the title is still somewhat misleading: it doesn't actually contain a "complete collection" of all of the things that could be called "comics." It doesn't even have a complete collection of any one thing called comics, to be honest. But, then, doing that between two covers is impossible, anyway. So clearly the title is trying to say something else, even if it's not as clear as we'd like.

The Comics: The Complete Collection is actually an omnibus, which is where that amusing subtitle comes in. Brian Walker -- son of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois creator Mort Walker and toiler in the strip-comic mines himself, working the old man's claim since the mid-80s -- assembled two books about the American newspaper comic strip in the early aughts, under the titles The Comics: Before 1945 and The Comics: Since 1945. And the massive slab I have in front of me right now -- seriously, my right arm is resting on it as I try to type; the thing is immense -- shoves those two books between two covers for a single century-long look at one of the great American artforms.

Each book has a general introduction -- the one in Since 1945 recapitulates a lot of what we've just read in the first book; there clearly was no additional editing or changes in turning this into one volume -- and then is divided into a few long chapters by decade. Each decade gets its own introduction, running through the new strips that started at that time and some more general details, and then Walker gives notable strips of that time some space. Major creators like Milton Caniff or Walt Kelly or Charles Schulz get several spreads -- and, actually, these multi-spread sections grow more common in the second half, as there are fewer new strips to choose from. (The untold story here is how zombie strips -- like the ones Walker himself works on -- choked the comics page like kudzu and stopped all but the smallest changes from taking place over the past three decades.) The thirties gets the single longest chapter in the book, which is plausible, though the forties gets even more space, split across the two section.

The original books were a little too early to discuss the migration of strip comics to the web -- or the destruction of the traditional newspaper business by the Internet; take your pick on how to characterize that -- so there's none of that here. The Comics discusses the artform that Hearst and Pulitzer facilitated starting in 1895 and covers it for the next just over a century, but takes no position on what would happen in the future. It's inevitably somewhat nostalgic, though a lot of the best and most interesting comics are in the first half, and are now out of the living memory of nearly everyone. Even the dullest reader will see how the variety of styles and endless flow of words of the pre-war years has been successively cramped into a mostly big-black-line school of art and a tightly limited number of words a day to form a single gag. Sure, the modern form has a lot of great stuff in it, but the older, larger comics sizes could accommodate any of the modern strips and a whole lot more.

But it's not as if newspapers are a growing or thriving business; even if they survive, and their comics along with them, it's unlikely we'll see giant strips across the width of huge broadsheet pages again. And with the web, maybe we don't need to -- though the screens we look at online comics have been shrinking in the past few years as well, so the same problem is happening again in a different format and vastly more quickly.

The Comics is a lovely coffee table book with bits of dozens of great stories and a few hundred good gags. It showcases a great American artform, and gives space to a few dozen incredibly varied artists, writers, and craftsmen, to provide many hours of enjoyment. But be careful lifting the thing, or else you could easily sprain something.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/21

I'm back once again, for one of the very few dependable posts on Antick Musings this season. As always, this Monday I have a few books sent to me by the hard-working and book-loving publicists of Big Publishing (or Slightly Smaller Publishing, or sometimes even Not Large At All Publishing). So I'm going to look at them and describe them to you, as if you were sitting right next to me, through the magic of the Internets. Since I haven't read any of these books, it's best to assume that anything I write here that strikes you as odd or unpleasant is actually my mistake, and every one of these books is destined to be the one you clasp to yourself and love forever.

First up is The Exile by C.T. Adams, who is herself one-half of the "Cat Adams" writing team. (Though she seems to provide most of the name, with her partner responsible only for a lonely lower-case 'a.') It's the first book in an urban fantasy series called "The Fae," and no points at all for guessing what magical creatures are most important here. Our heroine is not only half-Fae, but the daughter of the Fae king, brought back to Earth by her witch mother as a young teen when things got too dangerous over there. And she now lives a quiet human life running a magic shop -- until, of course, a battle over the Fae succession spills over into her world as well, and drags her into it. (A fantasy novel entirely about someone living quietly and happily might be neat once in a while, but it's certainly not the done thing.) The Exile is a trade paperback, available from Tor on March 10th.

James Enge's The Wide World's End is at the opposite end of its series: it ends the trilogy called "A Tournament of Shadows," about the young life of his series hero Morlock Ambrosius. (Young is relative here; Morlock has been married for a hundred years when this book opens.) I read one of Enge's books about Morlock, This Crooked Way, a few years back, really enjoyed it, and have been piling up the rest in a so-far-vain hope that I'll find time to read through a bunch of them. (It still may happen.) As far as I can see, all of the Morlock books before this trilogy were standalones, so any of them or the series-opener, A Guile of Dragons, would be a good place to dip into Enge. And I found him to be a darkly entertaining sword-and-sorcery writer, so I do recommend taking a look. Wide World's End is a trade paperback from Pyr, available as of the 17th of February.

And last for this week is a new original anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, the reigning Queen of all dark genre fiction. (She usually rules the borderland between fantasy and horror, but her forces have influence far into SF, and her eye encompasses all those lands. And if I seem to be making her into Sauron the Editrix, well, I guess my metaphor ran away from me.) The Doll Collection has seventeen brand-new stories about creepy dolls and similar homunculi from folks like Joyce Carol Oates, Carrie Vaughan, Jeffrey Ford, Pat Cadigan, Mary Robinette Kowal, Richard Bowes, and Richard Kadrey. It's a Tor hardcover coming March 10th, and I expect it will keep you up at night.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Incoming Books: Week of 2/20

I may not be reading as much as I'd like, but, by God, I can keep buying books! (Yes, that doesn't make any sense at all, but I'm sure there are many, many book-lovers nodding along as I say it.)

So last week, spurred by the thought that I wasn't re-acquiring the wonderful series of small hardcovers of P.G. Wodehouse's books from Overlook as quickly as I should, I placed an order with the excellent remainder firm of HamiltonBook [1] including several Wodehouses as well as a bunch of other things at low, low prices.

And those things were:

Life After Life, the somewhat SFnal most recent novel by literary/mystery novelist Kate Atkinson, in what turned out to be the QPB book-club edition. (Even seven-plus years later, it's amusing and pleasant to see those slightly-smaller format books when they turn up. I am of course not a member of any of those clubs at this point, and don't expect to ever be again, but I do still have a soft spot in my heart for that publishing model. And it's encouraging to see that they're still out there, and still using decent paper.) I read the first two of what we probably shouldn't call a series of mysteries about private eye Jackson Brodie -- he's in them all, but they're not traditional mystery novels in any way -- and reviewed them here: Case Histories and One Good Turn.

John Baxter's biography of J.G. Ballard, The Inner Man, which was never published in the US and probably never will be. (I'd half-given up on actually finding it on this side of the pond, so this Widenfeld & Nicolson hardcover was a happy discovery.) Ballard has long been one of my favorite writers.

Another book-club paperback: Michael Chabon's 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue. Chabon's another writer that I know I will enjoy if I read more of his books, but finding time is always the issue. Still, I can't read it if I don't have it, right?

The Complete McAuslan, collecting three books of short stories about the worst Scottish soldier in the history of the world. (The word "Scottish" might be slightly misplaced in that sentence.) It's by George MacDonald Fraser, author of the nastily wonderful "Flashman" books, and probably based at least somewhat on his own service during WWII. I read one of the three books -- I think the first one, but I could be wrong -- sometime in the '90s, and had been vaguely looking for the rest since then. An omnibus is a great solution.

The Looking Glass War, an early John Le Carre spy novel in a classy Penguin paperback. I'm vaguely trying to get at least the Le Carres in this current Penguin look -- he has a big backlist, across several publishers, so there's no unified dress for everything (much to my annoyance). I'm also happy to see that not only is this one short, but it also was the immediate follow-up to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which I read in 2013. So it's the natural next one in a Le Carre read, which is convenient.

Known to Evil, second in Walter Mosley's semi-new mystery series about New York PI Leonid McGill. I read the first one a couple of years ago, but didn't have anything to say about it. Mosley's many things, but he started out as a great mystery writer, and all signs show that he still is one.

My abrupt departure from the SF world meant there were a lot of writers I used to enjoy that I've just not had time to read for the past few years, which is sad. One of them is Alastair Reynolds, whose books are just fat enough to look like they'll take more time than I have available. But I keep hoping to get back to him, and now I have a copy of his well-reviewed Blue Remembered Earth. It's also a book-club edition, which I think means it was a SFBC Selection, so good for Al on that one.

And now I come to the pile of Wodehouse, which I'll bullet out, just because. You all do know that Wodehouse is one of the few perfect humorous writers in the history of the world, right? (Another: S.J. Perelman.)
  • The Small Bachelor, a 1926 novel about a young man in love (what else?) adapted from a 1917 musical written with Guy Bolton
  • If I Were You, a 1931 novel about two boys -- the son of an Earl, and the son of a barber (and, more importantly, of the earl's son's nanny) -- who may have been switched at birth
  • If I Were You, Wodehouse's memoirs, as adapted by his friend and correspondent William Townend from Wodehouse's letters over the years
  • Bring on the Girls, another book of memoirs, this one by Wodehouse and Guy Bolton about their theatrical adventures
  • And French Leave, a mid-50s book in which three chicken-farming American ladies meet a penniless aristocrat in a tony French resort
Another wonderful discovery: The Art of Jaime Hernandez by Todd Hignite at less than a third of cover price. This is an oversized art book about one of the brothers behind the long-running and consistently excellent Love and Rockets series, including one L&R story that doesn't appear anywhere else.

And last is another big art book in a somewhat different style: The Art of Doug Sneyd. Sneyd's gorgeously painted full-page cartoons have been appearing in Playboy for decades, and this book collects a lot (all? most?) of them. Looking quickly at this, I realize that I remembered his voluptuously beautiful women (the point, of course) but not how openly predatory and rat-like his men look: it's sexist humor, obviously, but there's at least an undertone of knowledge there, too.

[1] I've been ordering from them for at least twenty years -- I have a firm memory of getting big boxes from Hamilton in the early '90s -- and they have excellent prices, fast service, and a big, quirky collection of whatever they can offer cheap at the time. If you like books in general, as opposed to some tiny niche, they're full of wonders.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Obligatory Cat-Vacuuming Update


Yes, I have been very quiet here -- those of you who see Antick Musings via the ports to social networks might be happy about that, actually -- but that's only to be expected. Last time I was seriously looking for work, back in that lovely year seven, I threw myself into this blog, continuing the work I'd been doing on the SFBC blog as "Blog in Exile" here and posting many times a day with links and commentary and other SFnal stuff. And, in the end, that meant nothing, and conventional job-search efforts got me a nice marketing job at the venerable and prestigious firm of Wiley, doing things that had less than nothing to do with the SFnal world. [1]

So I'm definitely not doing that again.

Instead, I'm doing the job-search thing every day, and I'm sure most of you reading this have had to do that at least once, and can fill in the general details. I have a lot of alerts and e-mails, and I've written more variations on the same cover letter than I'd like to remember. It's still early days, too, for all that I want this to be over immediately. On top of the usual stuff, I'm also meeting with an outplacement firm to redo my resume and incorporate other tactics, and there's a certain amount of homework as part of that process.

All of that takes time and effort and mental energy. I'm finding that job-searching is more tiring intellectually than actually working is; I don't naturally toot my own horn, so having to do that multiple hours every day takes its toll. And doing that makes me deeply uninterested in writing anything here, unfortunately.

(I'm also reading vastly less, because I've turned into someone who only reads while commuting. That was fine when I was on a train two hours a day -- maybe it's not quite as much as I read in a day back in my glory days of the '90s, but it's still quite a lot -- but is less pleasant when I'm sitting in a basement in front of this computer 12-14 hours a day. But they say the first step to changing is acknowledging the problem, so I hereby acknowledge it.)

So I expect posts to be sparse here for some time. That may be until I get a new job, until substantially after that point, or until I figure out how to motivate myself to read and write more on top of the job search. I won't try to predict which, or how long.

But I am spending time in New York City in the middle of the week regularly now, for the first time in years, which will be substantially more wonderful once the temperature comes above freezing for more than five seconds. And I hope that can lead to actually seeing people in person again, which didn't happen for a long time while I was entombed in Hoboken. At this time of year, I'd normally be saying that I'd see everyone at Lunacon -- or, to be more honest, that I'd see the few people who bother to go to Lunacon anymore -- but that's not happening this year.

Anyway, if there's any meet-ups happening, or other events, I would love to know about them. And I may even reach out to people for lunch dates, though I feel really weird about that, since I have been out of touch with so many people for so long. So you may actually see me emerging from the mists, and, if so, I want to reassure you that I am not a mirage: I actually do still exist. And I come in peace.

[1] Although "Blog in Exile" did lead to a nice relationship with ComicMix that ran for a several years, and I think ended with happy feelings on both sides, so I shouldn't be quite that dismissive of it. But it definitely wasn't the most effective use of my time at that moment, even if it felt like productive work.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/14

Some bloggers just take pictures of the books they get, but Antick Musings goes the extra step: we
actually glance at those books cursorily and quickly write something that may even be not too inaccurate! It's all because of our devotion to you the home viewer.

This week, we have five swell books for you, which you're sure to love and clasp to your bosom and buy multiple copies of to lift the fortunes of this entire benighted industry. So let's get right to them!

Last Man, Vol. 1: The Stranger is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels from the French team of Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vlives, set in a pseudo-medieval Europe among a group of young people training for the annual gladiatorial/magical Games. It's coming in April from First Second, and the rest of the trilogy will also be on its way this year -- so readers won't have long to wait for the full story.

Shadow is the second book in Australian fantasist Will Elliott's Pendulum Trilogy, after last year's The Pilgrims. It's a portal fantasy, in which a London journalist stumbled accidentally into Levaal, a world between world filled with dragons, magic, stone giants, Tormentors, and the evil Lord Vous, who is scheming to turn himself into a god. It has a lot of the well-worn furniture of standard epic fantasy, but it promises to be something more subversive or post-modern. But I do expect our journalist will succeed in stopping the Dark Lord from conquering all of the universes in the end. Shadow is a Tor hardcover, available February 24.

Shadow Scale is the sequel to the very popular YA fantasy novel Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. (Rachel Hartman.) It's set in another semi-medieval world, where dragons and humans mix -- and, as you might expect from the fact that it was popular, there are also human-dragon half-breeds -- don't think too closely about the mechanics of that; this is a book for young teenagers -- and our heroine, inevitably, is secretly one of them. This book sees more challenges and dangers for our half-dragon girl, as well as hints of a capital-D Destiny. It's coming in hardcover from Random House Books for Young Readers on March 10th.

The Devil's Detective is the first novel by Simon Kurt Unsworth, and it's pretty much what the title implies: the central character is a functionary in Hell, and he has to investigate when first a member of a delegation from Heaven is murdered, and then the string of killings continues. I have a soft spot in my heart for afterlife fantasies, so this looks very interesting to me. It's a Doubleday hardcover, coming March 3rd.

And last for this week is the book with the most stylish cover: A Darker Shade of Magic, the second novel by V.E. Schwab (who also writes young adult novels as Victoria Elizabeth Schwab), after the twisted superhero tale Vicious. Darker Shade is a sideways-in-time book, with a hero who travels among three alternate versions of London, each delineated by a color -- and, inevitably, he gets caught up in larger schemes that threaten not only his life, but all of the Londons as well. It's a Tor hardcover, available on February 24th.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Incoming Books: Week of February 14

I haven't managed to get into a good groove with this unemployment thing -- I don't want to, for one thing, and am hoping and working to make it as short as possible -- which means I'm feeling uneasy and jittery for much of my days. (And that's without ever drinking coffee!) I know I'm not being as productive, on any of the things I want to, as I'd like: not reading much at all, not writing enough here, spending too much time refreshing my e-mail and researching jobs that are completely wrong for me.

But the cat-vacuuming did lead to two trips to stores that sold books last week, where I traded in a lot of old stuff and got a bunch of new(ish) stuff, much of it at wonderful prices. And, since Antick Musings does devolve into a series of annotated lists of books when I'm not careful, here's yet another one of those. My hope here is that some of this stuff will look enticing and new to at least a few of you; this is all stuff I was willing to spend the moral equivalent of money on.

First up, from my long-time local used book store (with some new stuff as well), the Montclair Book Center, were fifteen very random titles.

The inevitable stuff to feed ongoing or possible reading projects:
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman and the Dragon -- I'm still not sure if I will re-read these, but I now just need two or three of them.
  • Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse, in the wonderful Overlook edition, which I'm trying once again to collect (I lost fifty or so of them in the 2011 flood, and am back to around forty at this point -- but Overlook is closing in on having published all of Wodehouse's roughly hundred books by now.) This, I believe, is a collection of stories all concerning Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, who is one of Wodehouse's lesser-known great comic creations. And I'm sure there will come a time when I'll need it to lift my spirits.
  • Five more Vintage Contemporaries, for that ongoing project:
    • Platitudes by Trey Ellis
    • Within Normal Limits by Todd Grimson
    • November by Janet Hobhouse (author of Dancing in the Dark)
    • Saigon, Illinois by Paul Hoover
    • Something to Be Desired by Thomas McGuane (author of The Bushwhacked Piano)
  • And two books by Helene Hanff, which I originally read more than a decade ago (before this blog) and was reminded of when I recently read her Underfoot in Show Business: the inevitable 84, Charing Cross Road and its lesser-known sequel The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
Another website-into-book, destined to be read in the smallest room, with one of the highest doses of Schadenfreude ever detected in a single volume: F My Life, edited by Maxime Valette, Guillaume Passaglia, and Didier Guedj. (Yes, F My Life was originally French -- with a title that roughly translates to "the Shit Life" -- and only came to the English language after a first initial success there. The things you learn from quirky little books.)

Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures, which was her second memoir/collection of essays. She's an interesting figure anyways, and I also want to understand my older son better -- he's "on the spectrum," as they say, though exactly where is a fuzzier thing.

And an interesting book from the thriller writer James W. Hall -- whom I think I read once or twice in my book-club career -- about the bestselling books of the 20th century, Hit Lit. I may end up back in the fields of mass-market publishing, soon or eventually, and that kind of thing has always fascinated me: why do so many people decide they want this, right now?

An encyclopedic book of things that Americans used to consider funny -- from anvil and falling safes to rolling-pin wielding wives and pay toilets -- under the title American Cornball, from Christopher Miller. I heard about this somewhere and knew I had to have it: I love weird encylopedias, the quirky side of history, and humor.

Sidney Harris's cartoon collection Einstein Simplified, from 1989. If you're a SF or science person, you've seen his work many times -- you may even have a Harris up on the door of your office right now.

The big book The World of Ice & Fire, by George R.R. Martin with Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson. Since I'm not commuting at the moment, if I can ever make myself sit down and read, I'd be able to sit down and read this big thing. And I'm always fond of fake nonfiction, which this more-or-less is. (I think there's some actual fiction in there, too.) [1]

As a palate cleanser, I also got a book from a Kickstarter I backed this week -- Rick Geary's The True Death of Billy the Kid. It's yet another one of his historical re-creations, which he's so good at, and this one is a larger-format book in hardcover, unlike the main sequence. (Also, since I backed it, I get a couple pieces of related ephemera, and Geary signed the book to me personally! It's amazing what can make someone happy.)

And then a bunch of comics from the packed and quirky Time Warp Comics and Games, which probably would be my regular comics shop if I still had such a thing. (My younger son semi-regularly attends a Magic The Gathering tournament there on Friday nights, and it's the closest good comics shop I know of -- oddly organized, as all comics shops are required to be, but full of interesting things all over the place.)

The first collection of Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida. Yes, it's all online, and there's no reasonable chance the whole series will ever be collected in book form. But sometimes I just want things between two covers, OK?

Chew, Vol. 5 by John Layman and Rob Guillory -- I think I now have three of these lined up, so I might run through them quickly and write one post. (Or run through them slowly or quickly and bury them in an end-of-month roundup: could go either way.)

Scott McCloud's Zot, Book 1 -- the 1997 Kitchen Sink edition that's the only time the first ten color issues of the series were collected, and what looks like the only time they ever will be collected. (Seriously, they're not vastly different from the later black and white issues -- they're not training-wheel comics or anything.) Another book I'm very glad to have back in my hands.

A small pile of Hellboy-verse collections from Mike Mignola and his merry band:
A book that Alan Moore wishes we'd stop listing his name in connection with: Miracleman Book 2: The Red King Syndrome, by Moore (here laughably credited as "The Original Writer") with artists Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, Chuck Adams, and John Ridgway. It's still one of the better arguments that it's possible to take superheroes seriously.

Swallow Me Whole is one of the great graphic novels of our time, though I don't see it mentioned with Blankets or Ghost World or Bottomless Bellybutton all that often. (It did win the Eisner for Best GN for Nate Powell in 2009 though, which is something.) I had a rough galley before the flood -- I reviewed it for ComicMix when it was published -- but this is the first time I have a real finished book.

I've heard good things about Cameron Stewart's Sin Titulo, though I couldn't tell you where or when. But it's a horizontally-formatted book, collecting what was oriignally a webcomic, and with any luck I'll read it soon.

I think Dynamite only published these two collections of Tim Truman's excellent '80s comic Scout -- Vol. 1, with the first seven issues, and Vol. 2, collecting up to #16 -- which is a shame, since only one more would finish off the original series. (And another one would collect the mini-series, and two more would get all of War Shaman between covers. Heck, as long as I'm wishing, how about a world where Truman either can now do Marauder and Blue Leader, or one where he got to them around 1990ish?) Well, at least these two books exist, and I have them now.

And last was Fairest, Vol. 1, the beginning of the latest spin-off from Bill Willingham's Fables series. (This one was written by Willingham with Matthew Sturges with pencil art mostly by Phil Jimenez and inks more often than not from Andy Lanning.) I'm not really sure what angle this takes from the original, but I do want to catch up on this and Fables, though I'm clearly already missing the big finish.

(Speaking of big finishes, that was mine. Another week is beginning, and I hope to get more organized here -- but we'll have to see if that actually happens.)

[1] Interestingly, Amazon doesn't allow affiliate links to the print edition of this book -- the first time I've ever seen that message in their link-building tool. Probably the first pebble of the avalanche, though: they don't need any of us to send them traffic at this point.