Cross-Hatchings for January 2016

Just stuff. A little of this and a little of that. Nothing this week rated a full column on its own but I did get a couple of review items, and found some interesting old stuff as well. Indie superhero comics from Australia, The X-Files, Hard Case Crime... and me and my students did a fun author signing. All awaits you below the fold.


People Send Me Cool Comics Dep't: Andrez Bergen just sent me his new thing. It's called Magpie and it's meant to be... well, I'll let Mr. Bergen tell you himself. "The story is called MAGPIE, and for this I'm collaborating with veteran, super-talented Aussie artist Frantz Kantor (I'm writer/editor only this time.)"

"Magpie is done very much in the spirit of, well, The Spirit – taking on the concept that people like Will Eisner and Tarpé Mills did of telling complete stories and off-beat vignettes, with a sense of humor as much as a nod to noir, over 8-page installments. While an homage to the comics we love from the golden age to contemporary ones, it also carries with it a pastiche/deconstruction of multi-media pop-culture sensibilities, and the odd fracture of the fourth wall."

Well, okay, that's a pretty high bar, but on the whole I approved of Magpie. It was cute and funny and really quite gorgeous to look at-- Frantz Kantor is evoking the Mad-era Wally Wood quite a bit more than Eisner, and for that matter Salazar's story is much more along the line of Mad's Superduperman than anything Eisner was doing. Even though we don't really get to Magpie till the end, for an introductory chapter I liked it enough to bring it to your attention. I'd love to see more. It rolls out in the Comicoz anthology book Oi Oi Oi! #7, which is due out at the end of January.... at Aussie newsagents only, sadly for those of us not in Australia. They don't appear to sell single issues online, but you can get a 4-issue subscription at the Comicoz web page, here. (Note to Comicoz-- I'd be a lot more likely to order something from you if you made single-issue purchases or even digital downloads an option for those of us that are overseas.) But that's not on Bergen or Kantor and I wish them the best of luck with this. Do check out Magpie if you get a chance.... if there's ever any sort of collected edition or paperback of it, I'd be all over that action.


People Send Me Cool Books Dep't: Titan Comics over in Britain recently sent me a review copy of their new book, THE X-FILES VOL 1: THE AGENTS, THE BUREAU AND THE SYNDICATE. They promise to follow up with THE X-FILES VOL 2: LITTLE GREEN MEN, MONSTERS AND VILLAINS in March.

These books are just compilations of articles and photo spreads reprinted from Titan's The Official X-Files Magazine, timed -- one assumes -- to be available in stores just as the revival show begins airing. The interviews in this first one are interesting enough, though many are horribly dated, especially the one with David Duchovny, but where the book falls apart is the breathless adoration with which the extire enterprise is executed. I mean, I loved The X-Files-- for its first five years or so, anyway-- and even I was a little put off by how gushy this book is. I much prefer the official making-of books that came out while the show was running.

And even with those, a little went a long way. The first couple in the series-- it went at least six volumes-- were more than adequate for my X-phile needs. But really, when it comes to tie-in merchandise, I much prefer the licensed fiction. Kevin Anderson did some pretty cool X-books, and I always liked the Topps Comics, what I've seen of them. Haven't checked out the new "Season 10" series, though I'll probably get around to those eventually.

As for the new revival show itself? Well, that premieres a week from tonight as I write this, and I have hopes, certainly.

(Unlike most folks, we liked the second movie well enough, though I suspect what killed the box office was that the sympathetic child molester was too icky for most people.) The preview publicity seems to show everyone as being genuinely enthusiastic about doing it, and it's been long enough that we might all remember what it was we liked about the show in the first place before they overstayed their welcome by about three seasons. Also very relieved that Chris Carter didn't insist on writing the whole thing. Probably won't be skipping Supergirl for it when it moves to Monday, though. We'll stream it or something eventually.


On The Other Hand Dep't... Although the X-Files book was pretty weak tea, in the interest of fairness I should mention that Titan also sent me two new mysteries that I liked a great deal: the latest from Hard Case Crime, and another book that is an introductory entry to a new series.

The Hard Case entry is one of their archaeological offerings-- reprinting a couple of old pulps from grand master Ed McBain, under the title Cut Me In.

Just as an aside, it's impossible to look at that Robert McGinnis cover and not sigh for the days when most genre paperback covers had illustrations that were that cool. The book itself-- well, here's the blurb-- When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. Maybe no one liked Del Gilbert, not the men he did business with, not the women who discovered his other lovers, not even his partner in the Gilbert and Blake literary agency – me. But when I found him shot to death on the floor of his office, I had no choice. I had to track down the person responsible. And not just to lay Del to rest, either. The office safe was open, and a contract worth millions was missing...

It's a good story, certainly not up to the best of the 87th Precinct stuff, but on the other hand it's a nice change of pace and a reminder that McBain can work in any genre he pleases; the noir badassery on display here is hardcore. And I like seeing early work from old hands, before they got to be old hands. It's kind of raw and cool in a way the polished later books aren't. The volume is rounded out with a short story featuring McBain's Matt Cordell, who eventually was rewritten into private eye Curt Cannon. (That explanation is here for those who are interested.) The original Curt Cannon paperback, I Like 'Em Tough, collecting the McBain stories from Manhunt, goes for something like $150 from antiquarian dealers so it's nice that Hard Case is putting these things back in front of people. There's another one of these McBain re-issues from Hard Case, So Nude, So Dead (with another badass cover by Greg Manchess) that's probably going on my shopping list now as well-- and there's another story included as an extra in that one, too, "Die Hard." (No relation to the movie.) There's a full Matt Cordell novel by McBain available from Hard Case as well, The Gutter and the Grave.

Yeah, yeah, I'm in the tank for Hard Case books, I admit it. But who else is doing this kind of thing? It's not as though there's hordes of other publishing houses reprinting forgotten gems from Manhunt, let alone putting new McGinnis covers on them.

The new mystery series was a slow starter but it won me over in the end. The Blood Strand by Chris Ould.

Here's the blurb: Having left the Faroes when he was three years old, Jan Reyna is now a British murder squad police detective, and the Islands are completely foreign to him. But he is drawn back when his estranged father is found unconscious in an isolated spot, a shotgun by his side and someone else’s blood in his car. Then a man is found washed up on a beach, a shotgun wound in his side, but signs that suffocation were the cause of death. Is his father – who has suffered a massive stroke and is unable to speak – responsible for the man’s death? What about his half-brothers, and the signs that one of them may have been blackmailed? Jan falls in with local detective Hjalti Hentze, a man after his own heart, but as the stakes get higher and Jan learns more about the truth behind his mother’s flight from the Faroes, he must decide whether to stay and learn more, or forsake the strange, windswept Faroe Islands for good.

For those who don't know, the Faroe Islands are a little archipelago about halfway between Norway and Iceland-- an interesting and isolated place to set a mystery, surely.

But I have to confess, I'm not normally a fan of these kind of let's-set-a-murder-mystery-in-an-offbeat-environment things. It seems gimmicky to me, and it's often a cheap way to cover up a pedestrian plot. But Mr. Ould has got some chops. The mystery is engaging, and there's a sort of bleak noir vibe about the whole thing. Considering my prejudice against regional gimmick mysteries, the fact that Ould pulled it off and got me into it was quite the feat. So that's two in the win column for Titan against one lame X-Files tie-in. That's not bad.


Watch Our Barnes and Noble Thing! As I mentioned here not too long ago, my Young Authors students and I did the "Words and Writers" program at the Westwood Village Barnes and Noble last week, and it's up on Youtube now.

You can see Dimpal, Willoweve, and Shane there from our panel with me standing behind, and that's Fowssiya's head there in the front. We had Teya and Symphony on the panel as well, with more of our students scattered throughout the room. I hope you'll check us out. I blathered for a bit about the program and then the kids just rocked it. In particular, Fowssiya and Iman did a spoken-word thing called "ISLAMOPHOBIA" that just blew the doors off the joint, but all our students acquitted themselves well. Link is here and it's about an hour in all.


And Finally, a Question! I've been thinking of doing another no-holds-barred trivia contest, but I'm not sure what it should be about. Previous entries can be found here. So I figured I'd throw it out to all of you. Suggestions welcome; feel free to weigh in down below.

And that's all I have, this time out. See you next week.

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