Not a column but a bunch of little column-ettes this week-- because lots of little things have been piling up that I keep meaning to mention here. Let's see how many of them we can get through today, shall we?
I Get Mail: The review stack is getting a little out-of-control again, mostly because people keep sending me books I really like but can't think of a lot to say about.
Case in point: Random House sent me a review copy of Alien: The Illustrated Story by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson.
[caption id="attachment_118989" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Original on the left, new Random House version on the right."]
This is a reprint of the original comics adaptation from Heavy Metal, back in the 1970s. It's been recolored and remastered from the original art pages, and it's just gorgeous.
This is a great book. It was a great book when it first came out, it's a great book now, I'm delighted it's back in print. Even if you saw the movie, even if you know the movie by heart, this is worth getting.
There will be things in here that are new to you-- Goodwin was working from the original script, the story is much more fleshed out-- and anyway it's just a terrific piece of comics. Simonson's art is just staggeringly good. Two brilliant creators at the top of their game. I don't know what else to tell you... except that this new printing comes out this week and you should get one.
Also, Hard Case Crime sent along two books I adored... the first of which is a first novel, The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel Winter. The second is a newly-discovered story from James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress.
[caption id="attachment_118834" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="One of the most extraordinary debut novels I've ever read, and a classic from a master of the genre. Hard Case Crime, ladies and gentlemen-- this is what they do."]
We talk a lot around here about remix culture and drawing from the past and so on and so on, and my position has always been that if you are going to do that, you better bring something new to the party. Ariel Winter's The Twenty-Year Death does exactly that. It is structured as a three-in-one omnibus, three separate stand-alone novels. The first, Malvineau Prison, takes place in 1931 and is done in the style of a Georges Simenon novel; the second, The Falling Star, is set in 1941 and is a classic Chandler private-eye pastiche; and the third, Police at the Funeral, is ostensibly a 1951 noir crime novel in the style of Jim Thompson. Each is a separate book but all three feature the same husband and wife whose marriage is slowly unraveling because of crime-- first as minor characters, then as major supporting characters, and finally as the main characters. Over the two decades from 1931 to 1951, the three books form one long narrative. All the reviews are talking about the amazing structure of the thing and the brilliance with which Winter evokes each of his three literary inspirations... but I'll add that each tale in The Twenty-Year Death works as a mystery novel in its own right, they could just as easily have been published separately. But I love that all three are here at once, it's way more fun to read them one right after the other in this single hefty hardcover.
The Cocktail Waitress is James M. Cain's final novel, written in the late 1970s. Those of us who've read Cain biographies and seen all the references to this unpublished book have wondered about it, been desperately curious to see it, and been alternately tantalized and annoyed that it was probably sitting moldering in a warehouse somewhere, untouched and unread. Well, Hard Case editor Charles Ardai found it, and discovered that not only was it complete-- this is a real Cain book, not a fragment that's been finished by some other guy-- but there were in fact several different drafts of it. The book itself is classic Cain, much more in the neighborhood of Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity than later works like Butterfly and Serenade, and also has a cool afterword from Mr. Ardai explaining how the manuscript was found and prepared for publication.
Both The Cocktail Waitress and The Twenty-Year Death specifically, and Hard Case Crime in general, have my highest recommendation. There are a lot of people suddenly rediscovering pulp fiction lately and doing new versions of it, with varying results-- but looking at what Hard Case Crime puts out, all I can say is that this is how you do that remix pastiche thing, people.
TwoMorrows also sent me a couple of very cool books...
Of course I expected to love Dewey Cassell's Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics. Like all of the TwoMorrows biographies, it's an invaluable addition to any comics historian's library, full of fascinating interviews and anecdotes and unpublished art. And it's long past time Marie Severin got her proper due.
[caption id="attachment_118834" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Two great books... and the greatest thing about them is that you can get them as e-books if you prefer."]
The one I did not expect to like, but in fact enjoyed quite a bit, was the latest volume of Modern Masters, #28, featuring Eric Powell. I don't read The Goon and I am not familiar with Mr. Powell's work at all-- and I still found this to be a great, compelling read. Powell's a fun interview and he has lots of great stories to tell, and Eric Nolen-Weathington and Jorge Khoury did a great job putting it all together.
It finally dawned on me that the reason I enjoy these Modern Masters books is because they walk, talk, and shed water just like the old Comics Journal, back when they would do sprawling, giant interview issues with mainstream comic-book guys.
[caption id="attachment_118834" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Fantagraphics is way too arty to do this stuff now, but boy, these were fun magazines back in the day."]
Since Fantagraphics isn't publishing those any more, I'm grateful TwoMorrows has picked up the baton there. I still kind of wish they wouldn't call the series "Modern Masters," but I guess they have to call it SOMETHING. The price point on the print versions is a bit high, but the good news is that you can also get them as ebooks for a very reasonable price.
And finally, Erik Hendrix was so delighted with what I wrote about his horror comic The Evil Tree that he did with Daniel Thollin that he thought I might enjoy a look at his SF graphic novel Deadly Harvest, that he co-wrote with Michael Nelsen, with art by Yannis Roumboulias and Jeff Graham. And indeed I did enjoy it.
I've been saying for YEARS that there's a huge middle ground between doing comics for hardcore superhero fans and doing them for indie art snobs. Hendrix and Arcana are doing a great job of hitting that middle ground, which is to say adult-oriented fantastic-adventure stuff, from where I'm sitting. Deadly Harvest is a rough-hewn tale of space pirates and asteroid mining that strikes a tone somewhere between Outland and Alien, but it's better extrapolated and more plausible than either one of those. Fun space adventure that's also good science fiction doesn't come along nearly often enough; and almost never in comics. You should check it out. In stores sometime in December, I think.
At the Theater: I'm often conflicted when I write about things I like. My trouble is that my tastes in entertainment are very old-school; I like middlebrow, straight-ahead adventure sorts of things.
But my sensibilities and sympathies are all with the small-press indie guys. I like supporting small-press, and zine culture, and local artists... but they rarely are doing the kinds of stories I like. They usually snoot that stuff. Same with local theater groups and such.
So it was with great joy that Julie and I heard of a theater group that embraces that kind of thing. Both Chris Roberson and our old friend Chris Kohler of Portland Underground were Twittering away about this amazing experience they had at an outdoor theater last weekend, and when I told Julie about it, we decided that there was nothing for it but to hop in the car and drive to Portland see it ourselves, and so we did exactly that last Sunday.
It wasn't quite in Portland, but just north of it, at St. Johns. (Which is technically still Portland, I guess, but it always has felt to me more like its own place.)
We set out from Seattle Sunday morning and arrived around three. Showtime was at five, so we got there relatively early-- and the park was already half full. By showtime there were easily over a thousand people sitting on the lawn.
And what were all these folks there to see? Well, you've heard of Shakespeare-In-the-Park, right?
Portland, in the summertime, gives you...
...Trek In The Park.
And oh, my God, but it is so much fun.
Each year the company adapts a classic episode of Star Trek for the stage. The shows are done by Atomic Arts Theatre Group, and they are performed in Cathedral Park every weekend evening in August. Free admission. They don't even pass the hat; local businesses sponsor the production, though you can buy T-shirts if you want to throw a little cash towards the ensemble.
This was the fourth season, and the episode adapted (and really very well-adapted, too) was "Journey to Babel." Previous seasons were "Amok Time," "Space Seed," and "Mirror, Mirror" -- you can find bits of those up on YouTube if you do a search on "Trek in the Park."
Unfortunately, last Sunday's show was the last of the season, so as much as I'd like to be able to tell you all to go see it, I really can't. But we did get to see a preview of next summer's show (that preview is already up on YouTube, here.) We're definitely going to be there and if it's at all possible for you, you should too.
-- NOW UPDATED WITH COOL LINKS! I would have put these here when I originally wrote this if I'd known, so I'm putting them in now. Here is Jeff Parker talking about taking his family to "Journey to Babel," complete with great photos.
And here is an amazing photo set of the show from Kyle Helstein at Portland Pulp. Much better than mine, as you can see from the sample below. Check them out.
Bookscouting and etc.: Of course, we couldn't take a trip, even a short one like that, without doing a little noodling around. It's not a Hatcher road trip without some bookscouting... and diner food.
The diner food was courtesy of Pattie's, just a couple of blocks up from the park. Best onion rings in Portland -- yes, better than the Ringside's, for you PDX old-timers.
And the bookscouting was at Captain Fishhead's Thrift Shop, more or less across the street from Pattie's.
There were even comics... just junk, mostly, but it was nice to see them. Really, though, it was the books that caught my interest.
I ended up with Bar-20 Days, an original Hopalong Cassidy novel by Clarence Mulford, and The Pearl Harbor Murders by Max Allan Collins.
[caption id="attachment_118726" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Perfect afternoon park reading. "]
The Collins novel was actually how I amused myself in the park for the two hours waiting for the play to begin: this story of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his son Hulbert trying to solve a murder in Honolulu the night before the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941 was the perfect afternoon read.
All in all, last Sunday's day trip was a great way to close out our summer.
And there you have it. Hope you all have a great weekend-- and a great Labor Day, for those of you here in the U.S.-- and I'll see you next week.