People have been sending me so much COOL STUFF that this ended up being part one of two.
I really do love getting review items, and I especially like giving small-press stuff a push here if it's good. But lately I've taken on a bunch of extra commitments and the pile's been backing up on me a bit. So this week and next week, I'm clearing the decks. Some are comics and some are just comics-adjacent, but I think they're all worth pointing out to you folks. Here we go.
The Guild: The Official Companion by Felicia Day.The blurb: Since launching in 2007, the comedy web series The Guild has become an Internet phenomenon, with over 150 million views. Created, written by and starring Felicia Day, it follows the story of a Guild of online gamers who finally meet in real life. Here at last is the official companion to the show that fans have been waiting for, featuring an intro from Felicia, in-depth interviews and scores of photos.
What I Thought: Titan keeps sending me these amazing art books. Sometimes the project is worthy, and sometimes it isn't, but I really can't fault the thoroughness of the job they do on the presentation.
In this particular case, even if you're not a fan of The Guild-- and I confess that I'm not, really, though I've enjoyed the music videos-- I'd still recommend the book, because the story of how The Guild came to be is fascinating.
For me, anyway, the way Felicia Day and her friends managed to do a complete end-run around traditional media and distribution to create a whole new way of doing episodic TV is more interesting than the show itself.
It's one of the first and most influential examples of internet 'new media' programming. Moreover, the book itself is really gorgeous, laid out well and full of enough interviews and photos and trivial asides to satisfy the most rabid fan.
My only caveat is that there's no real author credit. Most of the prose is quotes from the actors, which is all very well, but the book wasn't put together by the graphics fairy. Someone went to a hell of a lot of work to design this book and put all the pieces in place, and whoever did all that deserves credit. It's a classy package. Hugely recommended if you're a fan, and still mildly recommended even if you're not.
Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself and Princeless Book 2: Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley, Emily Martin, and M. Goodwin.The blurb: For Book One... Collecting the first storyline of the Eisner nominated series, follow the adventures of Princess Adrienne, a princess who’s tired of waiting to be rescued. Along with her guardian dragon, Sparky, they begin their own quest in an all-ages action adventure designed specifically for those who are tired of waiting to be rescued… and who are ready to save themselves.
And Book Two...Princess Adrienne is back and she's bringing back her dragon Sparky and girl-blacksmith Bedelia! This time they're out to save the first of Adrienne's sisters, Angelica. Unfortunately, Angelica is the most beautiful girl in the whole kingdom and she knows it. Not only will Adrienne have to fight her jealousy of the attention Angelica gets, but she'll have to face Angelica's mysterious guardian. Meanwhile, Adrienne's father has hired a motley crew of bounty hunters to track down the knight he believes killed his daughter. What he doesn't know is that the knight he is after is Adrienne! Collecting issues 1-4 of volume 2, Princeless Book 2: Get Over Yourself is 100 pages of feel-good, girl-powered adventure for young readers or comic fans of any age.
What I Thought: My first thought, no kidding, was, "Oh my God I have to get this book in front of Rin's daughter." My second was, "My students would love this."
As you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this column, despite all the carrying on in the comics press about what a boys' club the comics industry is and so on and so on, that's really only true inside the Marvel/DC superhero bubble. The vast majority of my students over the last twenty years have been girls, and certainly the ones that keep in touch, that keep up with their writing and drawing, that come and visit us at shows and TA for me and even go on to turn pro, have all been female. And the smart, mouthy, princess-turned-warrior Adrienne is a heroine that's right up their alley.
As it happens, I love it too. Lots of people have tried to deconstruct fairy tales and Princeless is working the same turf as the Shrek cartoons, basically, but this is both funnier and less tied to specific pop culture things than any Shrek movie on its best day. The humor comes from character rather than snarky asides or anachronistic name-dropping, and Princeless is also a good story on its own merits. Both volumes one and two made me smile all the way through and even laugh out loud a couple of times. This is one of the most terrific comics I've run across in the last year and I'm very embarrassed that I somehow missed out on volume one despite all its critical acclaim and awards. Fortunately for those of us late to the party, though, Jeremy Whitley very kindly included both volumes in the review PDFs he sent out to let us all know Volume Two was coming shortly.
Recommended unreservedly. Especially if you have pre-teen daughters but even if you don't. The world needs more smart, fun comics like this one.
Joyland by Stephen King.The blurb: College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever. A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—JOYLAND is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, JOYLAND is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.
What I Thought: This column gig doesn't pay much, but there are benefits, and I think my favorite of them all is getting to be on the review list for Hard Case Crime. Of all the books they've sent me over the last couple of years, I have yet to see a clunker in the bunch. Editor Charles Ardai seems to have a knack for hitting that sweet spot between pulp fiction, classic mystery, and actual literature where most of my favorite books live.
This latest is no exception. Joyland from Stephen King is a remarkable tour-de-force. King is an accomplished storyteller, and no matter how rich or famous or lit'ry he might get, at his core he's still one of us-- he loves suspense and horror and noir, and he knows how to make a story move. This is old-school, stripped-down storytelling in the style of John D. MacDonald or someone like that-- this is the Stephen King of Misery and Thinner, not the one that did sprawling epics like It or The Stand.
Part of the charm for me, I have to admit, is that I kind of love that Stephen King does paperback originals for Hard Case Crime at all. It's such a fan thing to do. King's entries might be a little off-brand compared to other guys in the catalog like Brett Halliday or Max Allan Collins, but there's still enough action and scary stuff going on that they don't feel at all out of place as Hard Case titles.
Of course, because it's Stephen King, there's a high-end collectible version with a cover and interior illustrations by Robert McGinnis.
Speaking as someone who loves books and bookscouting, this makes my inner collector salivate a little-- I'm a huge fan of Robert McGinnis-- but Glen Orbik's cover for the standard edition is great too.
Anyway, the important thing is the story and I couldn't put this one down. Stayed up WAY too late last night reading it through at a sitting. A very dark and cool novel with a twist that, for once, I didn't see coming.
Comic Book Creator #2: Joe Kubert, edited by Jon Cooke.The blurb: TwoMorrows Publishing (the leading publisher of books and magazines for comics fandom) has just released its second issue of COMIC BOOK CREATOR, “The New Voice of the Comics Medium.” This double-sized trade paperback Annual debuted in stores worldwide on Wednesday, July 31, and is currently available from TwoMorrows’ website. Squeezed between Kubert homage covers by SERGIO CARIELLO and TIM TRUMAN, this Summer Annual is entirely devoted to the legendary comics creator who passed away in 2012. Included are comprehensive examinations of each facet of Joe’s career: Golden Age fan favorite artist, 3-D comics pioneer, pre-eminent war delineator, top artist-as-editor, incomparable Tarzan writer and artist, founder of the Kubert School, graphic novelist, P*S magazine helmsman, father to a comics creator dynasty, and inspiration to generations of aspiring artists—replete with interviews with the master from over the years, plus rarely seen artwork and artifacts. Editor JON B. COOKE has also assembled testimonials, remembrances, portraits, anecdotes, pin-ups and mini-interviews by peers, faculty, students, fans, friends and family, with special emphasis on a history of the Kubert School, its illustrious alumni, and Joe’s impact as instructor.
What I Thought: I liked Jon Cooke's magazine well enough when it was Comic Book Artist, but the new version, Comic Book Creator, is just plain gorgeous. For all of us that admired Joe Kubert-- and really, was there anyone who didn't?-- this is one-stop shopping. Every facet of his career is addressed, both through interviews with Kubert's family and contemporaries and through amazing art and photo layouts-- in full color, no less... not just a color section but the whole damn thing all the way through. And the pages absolutely deserve it.
Technically, I suppose, Comic Book Creator is a magazine, but as far as I'm concerned, this is a book, and one that anyone interested in comics history should have on their shelves.
The print edition goes for $17.95 but there's also a digital edition with 32 extra pages of bonus material not included in the print edition, and that one is only $7.95. Ten dollars off and you get MORE. That's quite a deal.
Peter Cushing: A Life In Film by David Miller.The blurb: Peter Cushing was an unforgettable presence in cult cinema of the fifties, sixties and seventies, and remains one of Britain's best-loved film stars. Cushing made a huge impact in the groundbreaking television adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and went on to find international fame as Baron Frankenstein and Doctor Van Helsing in the most acclaimed films from the Hammer studio. During his lengthy career, Cushing also played Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and Grand Moff Tarkin, the villain of the original Star Wars. Author David Miller has written a definitive guide to the stage and screen career of a legendary star, drawing upon conversations with Cushing's friends and colleagues, archive material held by the BBC and Hammer Film Productions, and previously unpublished correspondence with Cushing himself. This in-depth research forms the basis for a revealing re-assessment of the career and achievements of this much admired and very private actor.
What I Thought: This is not really comics-related at all, but there's enough film fans around here who like Star Wars and the Hammer horror movies that I thought this was worth a plug. It's another one of those beautiful art books from Titan, only this one is actually a real biography and not just a photo album and scrapbook... though there's lots of that stuff too.
Released to honor what would have been Cushing's 100th birthday, it's not your standard actor bio. This is a book for those of us that are more interested in his work and career than his private life. Though there are many private and personal bits, they are all filtered through Cushing's working relationships; the various interviews and reminiscences are all focusing on the various plays and films Cushing did.
You can't really discuss Peter Cushing's life without at least mentioning the death of his wife and how hard that hit him, and Miller does address that, but for the most part this is a loving look back at the career of a man who was pretty much universally admired by all his peers.
The book is also very nicely put together just as an artifact, a beautiful coffee-table hardcover with lots of great photos and behind-the-scenes stuff. It's a Hammer fan's dream, and right now it's available for under fifteen bucks on Amazon. Worth twice that, easily. And a great way to warm up for the new edition of Cushing's own memoirs, something else that should be on any Hammer fan's shopping list as well.
This is getting a bit long even for a bunch of capsule reviews, so I'll stop there. That's put a dent in the pile, anyway. I'll be back next week with the rest. See you then.