Tag Archives: books

The Joys of Independent Bookstores

Since I’m the only one in the general vicinity of this website who doesn’t think every book should contain “splash pages” and that dialogue should be contained in bubbles and consist mostly of exclamations and vapid expository pronouncements, I’ve been tapped to say a few words about National Independent Bookstore Day.

The short version is, I’m in favor of independent bookstores. Not only can you find all manner of superhero stories — intended to be disposable entertainment for children, but for some reason ending up being “boarded and bagged” like holy relics — you can also find that weird manga shit and probably some of those adult coloring books, too. So, go to an independent bookstore — today, if possible. Most of you need not read any further.

The long version, for those of you who like things that take longer than five minutes to read — the pleasure of independent bookstores lies in real books. Perusing an independent bookstore should be agenda-less. If you’re looking for something specific, well, that’s what Amazon is for. You should discover things at independent bookstores. Things you never knew you needed, but once seen, you cannot live without. Continue reading The Joys of Independent Bookstores

Avengers: Endless Wartime

Avengers: Endless WartimeAvengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The origins of the graphic novel are widely debated. While most of us nerds point to Will Eisner’s seminal A Contract with God as the first of its kind, without a unified definition of the format, or indeed of the comics medium to begin with, it’s easy to make an argument for ancient cave paintings and codices.

For the term graphic novel, however, we can thank Jim Starlin and the good folks at Marvel who, in 1982, killed off the trippy cosmic hero in the company’s first ever original book-length, lushly published comic book, The Death of Captain Marvel. The material was brand-new, not a collection of republished individual monthly issues. Today, the term graphic novel is used for any funnybook dressed up for the bookshelf and, for Marvel, that has traditionally meant collected editions of storylines from the monthly periodicals.

Now, for the first time in what seems decades, Marvel is back in the original graphic novel business (DC has already been doing this for some time, both with capes-n’-tights heroes and many of its Vertigo titles). Warren Ellis, who gained comics fame with DC’s Transmetropolitan and flexed his Marvel muscles with the excellent “Extremis” story in Iron Man, writes an Avengers melee that will appeal to both new fans lured in by the movies, as it features all the cinematic characters, as well as existing fans who have been loving the inclusion of Wolverine (and, to a lesser extent, the new Captain Marvel) into the roll call.

And, really, it is, for the most part, a big, gorgeous superhero slugfest. Tony Stark sets it up pretty effectively:

Mike McKone’s art is pretty great, and Ellis is fantastic with the dialogue. Throw in a parallel to modern drone warfare, and the moral question as to the validity of weapons manufacturing, and you have an effective use of the heroes of modern mythology to bring into focus the fallacies of modern society. And it looks pretty nice on the bookshelf.

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Radio Silence

A decade ago, in one of the first music-related missives disseminated from the then three-person collective that was Idle Time, Will wrote, “Rock & Roll has retarded our lives!” Individually, we had all led lives influenced and informed by musical exposure and experience. As a group, we suddenly knew no other way of communicating or interacting if not cross-referenced with album highlights or mixtape battles.

Our stories collided. The music-informed past that had shaped our feverish present became part of an ongoing anthology that we’re still trying to properly collate. Will and his graveyard restaurant shifts that became a tip-money pipeline to The Beat for whatever import CD singles he could get his hands on. Rex and I on middle of the night twin-bridge drives home during the mad years when we believed in the promise of every opening band and lived off plastic cups filled with cheap beer. Handstamps overlap. And Isey — the crown jewel of his blog oeuvre is his coming-of-age autobiography signposted by memorable tracks of the 90’s.

When it comes to stories about music or, more specifically, stories about lives affected by music, we can put aside petty genre debates. We get it. We appreciate it. Nick Hornby is a bit of a hero around these parts, High Fidelity practically scripture.

The first issue of Bay Area-based Radio Silence hit stands earlier this summer. The premise of “Literature and Rock & Roll” is a bit misleading. This volume features poems, stories, and interviews, but the highlights are biographical anecdotes from people (far cooler than us) with lives appropriately affected and influenced. A.E. Stallings, for example, who arrived in Athens, Georgia, fresh out of high school in 1986.

When perusing bands that were playing about town, at the 40 Watt or the Uptown Lounge, dorm-mates would circle the names of bands we had never heard of. Rumors ran wild, for it was known that R.E.M. sometimes did surprise gigs at local clubs under assumed names. Most of the time, though, if you went out to see an unknown band called Beast Penis, it would end up being Beast Penis. – A.E. Stallings, “Alice in Wonderland”

A better example of an appreciation for “the singer, not the song,” if you will, is a biographical piece by musician Jim White. Despite not being a huge fan of his music, White’s account of mystic salvation on the trail of Cormac McCarthy, “The Bottom,” is easily my favorite entry in this volume. Additionally, Radio Silence is replete with first albums, favorite bands, and primers on everything from New Order to Astral Weeks. Ted Gioia explains why Robert Johnson may have indeed met the devil, and Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler sets a short story in Big Sur for his own episode of Kerouacian sadness (with an admittedly forced observation of the rock & roll/literature roadmap). The original version of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby precursor, “Winter Dreams,” is included, along with three poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

In his foreward, editor-in-chief Dan Stone reflects on “the traffic of inspiration and influence” between literature and rock & roll, and the subsequent influence for this magazine and the multimedia exploration of this “exhilarating relationship.” I need little convincing. It wasn’t an English teacher that led me to Hemingway and Orwell; it was The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs.” I may never have heard Charlie Parker if not for James Baldwin. And I now have , following this first issue, a strange compunction to revisit Throwing Muses.

Read These: Rock & Roll Primers On A Pair Of (Former) Parents’ Worst Nightmares

The 1950s and 1980s had some similarities. During both decades the country was in the hands of a slightly doddering, grandfatherly president, we were economically stable (if you ignore the skyrocketing – pardon the expression – defense spending), and American society swung toward the conservative. One of the side-effects of this swing was the screeching, reactionary killjoys who were obsessed with the damaging effect rock music was having on the younger generation. It was…the devil’s music.

In the 1950s, it was the jungle throb of the rhythm (of African-American origins) and the blatant sexuality it seemed to invite, that upset people so. Racism aside, their reaction was understandable. It was sex music. The 1980s were actually a little more hysterical. They had come to terms with the sex (mostly), but now it was the devil himself they were wringing their hands over. The cartoon Satanism espoused by second-tier heavy metal acts as a way to be provocative did just that. The 1980s were steeped in media stories about “Satanic cults” and “ritual murders.” Don’t hear too much about those things these days, because society eventually grew up and realized it was all a load of shit. There were a few blips on the radar later (Marilyn Manson, gangsta rap), but it was those two decades in which the most people got their knickers in a twist about the “devil’s music.” Continue reading Read These: Rock & Roll Primers On A Pair Of (Former) Parents’ Worst Nightmares

Poets, Pundits, and Wicked Men: The (Side)Streets of San Francisco

My favorite quote regarding San Francisco comes courtesy of Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin. In a piece for a tourist magazine, The Guest Informant, he describes his first visit to the City by the Bay. In 1969, he was a junior naval officer with one day to explore before being shipped off to Vietnam, so he bought a ticket on a sightseeing bus and decided to take in the landmarks.

Minutes later I was climbing into those amazing hills, up where the world is all wind-worn greenery and ivory towers against the blue. There were, I soon learned, no “sights” to be seen so much as a single sight: the City itself – a gilt-edged landscape out of Maxfield Parrish, engulfing as a dream. – “My First Glimpse of the City”

He goes on to advise that the best way to see San Francisco is “to put on your sneakers and start walking.” Maupin’s favorite pedestrian route guides you through a plethora of cinematic landmarks, from All About Eve to Vertigo. This most recent President’s Day Weekend jaunt, however, was inspired by a different kind of landmark: alleys and sidestreets bearing the names of writers who, like Maupin, have literary connections to my hometown.

In typical Top 5 fashion, I present my favorite streets, ranked correspondent to my affinity for the writer (but perhaps influenced slightly by the location of the urban byway in question).

5. Jack London Alley, just south of Rincon Hill, between Bryant and Brannan Continue reading Poets, Pundits, and Wicked Men: The (Side)Streets of San Francisco

Ghostmann’s Top 5 Cats!

In the current issue of DC’s Animal Man (one of the best of the New 52), there happens to be a talking cat, which naturally got me thinking about doing a top 5 list of cats in fiction that talk (or in some cases drive).

#5. Fritz the Cat

Ever see that documentary Crumb? About the underground comic book creator Robert Crumb? If so then you know that that dude was a little on the fucked up side. Crumb is responsible for the creation of Fritz but it was Ralph Bakshi’s 1972 animated film adaptation that made Fritz a star. The only cartoon cat to star in an X-Rated movie. See for yourself… Continue reading Ghostmann’s Top 5 Cats!

Comics of the Year — 2011

One of the more interesting ironies of the new century is that while comics have become more popular in this country than ever before, it is that very popularity that seems to be threatening the existence of comic shops and specialty stores. Most major comics publishers, including the big two, have begun aggressively marketing digital versions of their monthly titles, complete with “smart” readers that zoom in and out on panel transitions like DVD-extra storyboards. Somewhat overlooked amidst DC’s New 52 initiative is the fact that the publisher is now releasing its digital editions simultaneously with print copies. Batman fanatics don’t need to hit their saver bin for a first peek into the mysterious Court of Owls. In fact, digital subscribers can download, read, and post spoilers on an issue before the local comic shop even opens for business.

Meanwhile, publishers of book-length graphic novels, as well as the cartoonists and creators responsible, are finding that their works are being embraced by mainstream bookstores and online vendors. The New York Times has a “Graphic Books” best seller list that includes volumes from pioneering indie comics publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. A backup story in Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 addresses the painful realization that we’re likely never to see a staple-bound comic from the likes of Chester Brown, Peter Bagge, or Jessica Abel again. He includes a soundbite from a Daniel Clowes interview on NPR: “Nobody wants to sell some floppy thing that, you know, gets all bent on the shelf… No bookstore wants to carry it because the profit margin is so low…”

Continue reading Comics of the Year — 2011

Books Of The Year — 2011

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks & Rob Tannenbaum

I don’t know if he invented it, but writer Studs Terkel certainly perfected the concept of an “oral history.” He would go out and interview a wide variety of people who created or influenced an aspect of American culture, and piece together a book on that topic out of their own words. In recent years, two landmark works of oral history have been published — 1995’s Please Kill Me told the story of the rise and fall of punk rock in America and Britain in the words of the scene’s (surviving) participants, and 2002’s Live From New York dealt with the seemingly unkillable NBC late night comedy show Saturday Night Live. Marks and Tannenbaum acknowledge the influence of these two books in the introduction to their own (yes, I read the introductions to books), which gathers recollections from hundreds of artists, directors, executives, and on-air personalities (“VJs”) to explore the glory years (1981-92) of the revolutionary cable network Music Television.

MTV was a huge part of growing up for me, both through childhood and adolescence. In its early years (1981-85), my older sister and her friends would sit and stare at it for hours. It was a time for them to socialize, yes, but often they just watched, sometimes offering a little pre-Beavis & Butthead commentary. Occasionally, grade-school Holy Bee would join them as a welcome guest. Other times I had to sneak down after dark and hide behind the couch, half-listening as they talked about incomprehensible high school things, and watching images of Van Halen, Madonna, Lionel Richie, The Thompson Twins, The Eurythmics, and many others unspooling before my eyes as I peeked out through the crack between the couch and the wall. (I’m pretty sure they knew I was there now.)

Then, when my sister went off to college and my family moved to a rural area with no cable — no more MTV. As a result, there’s a noticeable gap in my knowledge of music and pop culture from 1986 through the first half of 1989. When people bring up the likes of Rick Astley or Frankie Goes To Hollywood (as they often do), I go a little blank. I wasn’t missing much, though. Evidently, ’86 to ’89 was hair metal’s time to shine, and the two biggest VJs were the absolutely odious Downtown Julie Brown and the pompous blowhard Adam Curry. (Want a quote from Curry straight from the book? “I called MTV ‘The Big M…’ I thought that was genius of me.” He’s serious. It’s on page 375.) Continue reading Books Of The Year — 2011

Grant Morrison’s Supergods

It should be an easy question to answer, a simple topic to elaborate upon. I love comics, and I love talking about the medium. And despite the fact that some of the best, most literate expressions of this artform have nothing to do with superheroes, I can’t ever deny the deep-seated passion I’ve had for capes-and-tights adventures since my first Avengers so many decades ago. But – why superheroes? What is it about this mythic cross of science fiction and fantasy that had not only enthralled me from a young age, but has also turned into huge business, dominating popular culture in movies and video games in the twenty-first century? Should be simple to answer. Shouldn’t it?

Grant Morrison, one of the most renowned and respected comics writers of our day, is far more equipped to tackle this subject than I. Thankfully, at least, as his new book Supergods shows us, I wasn’t wrong in thinking that there is no simple answer to the question. I’m just as thankful that the exploration of superhero culture, in his capable hands and guided by a life similarly captivated by the genre (as well as being twisted through years of genuine chaos magic and intense psychedelia), is a tremendously fascinating and rewarding one.

The "demigod" begins his journey to "pop deity"

Supergods explores the history of superheroes, from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman in 1938 through the modern era and the infusion of superheroics into the “real world,” both in Hollywood’s forays into more realistic portrayals, and the advent of real world superheroes, like Portland’s Zetaman and Atlanta’s Crimson Fist. As each decade and each era is explored, Morrison beautifully connects current events with the responses of popular culture, demonstrating how the world of comics, and superheroes specifically, became both accurate reflections of the times as well as prescient oracles of developing fears, dreams, and ideals.

Continue reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods

2010 in Books, Part 2: Music Edition

You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Break-Up by Peter Dogget

Beatles books have come in phases. First was the “authorized” biography, The Beatles, by Hunter Davies, published all the way back in 1968, before the group had even split. There was a relative lack of written work on the band in the 1970’s. Apparently, many people were hoping that their story as a band wasn’t over, and a reunion would occur. The scant handful of 70’s books seemed to take a sociological approach, focusing on their impact on popular culture. After John Lennon’s murder in 1980 ended reunion hopes for good, the floodgates opened, and Beatle-related books abounded in the 80’s, including a new “definitive” band biography, 1982’s Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation by Philip Norman, the gossipy “insider” tome The Love You Make by former Beatle assisstant Peter Brown, and the first major biographical works on the individual band members (Ray Coleman’s 1985 doorstop Lennon, Chet Flippo’s glib Yesterday.)
The Beatles books of the 90’s and early 2000’s assumed everyone knew the “story of the band,” and tended to be technical, encyclopedic break-downs of their live appearances, recording sessions, and equipment. And now, we’ve come full circle, with the basic story being laid down again, with new research and perspectives, for a new generation. There has been a new band biography, once again entitled simply The Beatles, published by Bob Spitz in 2005, an excellent recent bio of John Lennon by Philip Norman (again) in 2008, and now two new McCartney bios. Continue reading 2010 in Books, Part 2: Music Edition