Friday in the Stacks-- Guest Reviews Edition

Super busy this week, since we're trying to deal with the end of the school year AND get books ready to roll out at the upcoming Olympia Comics Festival. So it's capsule reviews again... but with a twist.

The pile of review copies of things I've been sent has been spiraling out of control, and we've been pretty swamped with Real Life things... so I drafted some help. I decided to enlist the aid of students and friends who fit the target audience better than I do. So here we go.


Fun With A Pencil by Andrew Loomis.The blurb: Andrew Loomis (1892-1959) is revered amongst artists - including comics superstar Alex Ross - for his mastery of drawing. His first book, Fun With a Pencil, published in 1939, is a wonderfully crafted and engaging introduction to drawing, cartooning, and capturing the essence of a subject all while having fun. With delightful step-by-step instruction from Professor Blook, Loomis's charming alter ego on the page.

What Our Reviewer Thought: Titan Books sent this along-- it's a new hardcover reprint of the classic how-to-draw book by Andrew Loomis. Most of us who wanted to draw put in some time with a battered library edition at some point in elementary school, I suspect; it's nice to have it back in print again. I took the new edition to my middle-school Cartooning class to show the kids, and offered the chance to write a review as an extra project. Cal took me up on it. Here's what he had to say--

"Fun With A Pencil demonstrates an impressive geometric drawing style and it shows very simply how to change a stick and a circle into a groovy retro-style cartoon.

"Any child or adult could learn to draw this way and this book is truly the most explanatory and simple-to-read art book I have ever seen. If I had to complain about one thing it would be the too-short explanation about drawing hands." (Drawing hands is kind of a bête noire for my students and always has been.)

So there you go. Retails for $39.95 but you can get it for considerably less on Amazon -- right now a new copy is going for around twenty-three bucks.


The Art of Epic by Tara Bennett.The blurb: From 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, the creators of Ice Age and Rio, Epic tells the story of an ongoing battle deep in the forest between the forces of good and the forces of evil. When a teenage girl finds herself magically transported into this secret universe, she must band together with a rag-tag team of fun and whimsical characters in order to save their world -- and ours. The Art of Epic shines a light on the previously hidden world of Epic, with over 300 pieces of concept art, character sketches, storyboards and digital paintings, along with interviews with the key animation talent.

What Our Reviewer Thought: This is essentially the same kind of book as The Art of the Croods that I was talking about here the last time we did capsule reviews, so I really don't have anything different to say about this one-- it's just as nicely-produced and fun to look at. But I took this one (and the Croods book too) to Cartooning, thinking the kids would be interested. And indeed they were, but MUCH more in this one than the other-- simply because of the name. Whoever thought of titling this movie "Epic" deserves some kind of bonus from the marketing department because that's THE word of praise in middle school, these days. Something called "Epic" just HAS to be awesome, apparently, because that's all it took to get my students wound up. They actually fought over who got to review it. I ended up letting both Miles and Eli take a swing at it. So here's Miles...

"I really liked how there are so many pictures and sketches. The character descriptions and development parts were all good. The setting development section was pretty long and someone my age or younger wouldn't be able to sit through that and read it all the way. The color part and the 'making of' sequence part might be a bit complicated for a regular reader to enjoy."

And Eli weighed in with this...

"At first The Art of Epic looks like a simple publicity piece for the movie, but to me it was legitimately a book about showing the art of Epic. The book starts out by telling the premise of the movie and the backstory of the plot, then it shows some beautiful drawings and sketches from the movie. There are character sketches-- some are creepy!-- but that are all really good. It also shows early designs for the the locations and the characters in the movie. But one of the things this book does wrong is that there are very few images that reel me in. In an art book there needs to be pictures that the reader will see and say 'hey that looks cool I need to read more about this.' Altogether this book is good, it has beautiful artwork, but that's all it is. The words are boring though so really this is just a picture book, it would be just as good without the words. It's fun to look at but that's all, I don't think I would spend the money unless after you see the movie you absolutely loved it so much you need to know everything about Epic. But other than that I would say don't buy it, it's just for BIG fans of the movie."

So it would seem the kids are as lukewarm about the concept of every single new animated feature getting its own art book as I am. Overall, I tend to agree-- they're gorgeous books to look at, but $34.95 retail for such a book, no matter how gorgeous, is a bit steep. Even at the usual Amazon discounted price of $22 or thereabouts, it still strikes me as strictly for hardcore fans of the film being covered.


FRINGE #1: The Zodiac Paradox by Christa Faust.The blurb: Critically acclaimed Fringe explores new cases with endless impossibilities. Set in Boston, the FBI's Fringe Division started when Special Agent Olivia Dunham enlisted institutionalized "fringe" scientist Walter Bishop and his globe-trotting, jack-of-all-trades son, Peter, to help in investigations that defy all human logic - and the laws of nature. The first in an all-new series of tie-in novels!

What Our Reviewer Thought: First of all, the blurb is no damn help at all. I already knew that and we didn't much care for Fringe; Julie and I watched the first couple of episodes and thought it was too much a retread of The X-Files, and anyway we didn't want to invest all that time in yet another huge sprawling conspiracy-arc TV show...and then when we heard it had evolved into something really cool, we didn't want to invest in getting caught up on two or three seasons' worth of stuff. (We are often behind the cool kids on this sort of thing-- we're only just now getting into the new Battlestar Galactica, because my wife was such a staunch supporter of the original; it was a big deal for her family when she was a kid.)

However, when Tom Green from Titan offered to send this book along, I said yes, because I knew my friend Debra would want to see it. She adores Fringe. The book arrived earlier this week and yesterday she said, "I can't believe there are BOOKS! This is like a REAL book! It fills in all the gaps from when Bell first met Walter and there's all sorts of stuff about Nina and it just is SO COOL!" I can assure you that if anyone is qualified to rule on the coolness of Fringe merchandise, it's Debra, so I leave you with her assessment. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to know there are two more of these Fringe novels coming... and all authored by Christa Faust, who does the terrific Angel Dare books for Hard Case Crime.

And speaking of Hard Case Crime...


Mike Hammer: Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins.The blurb: Hammer accompanies a conservative politician to Moscow on a fact-finding mission. Arrested and imprisoned by the KGB on a bogus charge; he quickly escapes, creating an international incident by getting into a fire fight with Russian agents. On his stateside return, the government is none too happy with Hammer. Russia is insisting upon his return to stand charges, and various government agencies are following him. A question dogs our hero: why him? Why does Russia want him back, and why was he singled out to accompany the senator to Russia in the first place?

What Our Reviewer Thought: This one I kept for myself. It's the latest Mike Hammer book, posthumously completed by Max Collins from the notes and partial manuscripts Mickey Spillane left Collins to "do something with" after his passing. In fairness, I have to admit that I pretty much have loved everything from Hard Case Crime that they've sent me-- for me, they are essentially the equivalent in a mystery novel publisher to what Dynamite is doing right now in comics, i.e., their mission statement feels like, "What does Greg Hatcher like? ...Okay, then, let's print books with all that stuff."

Complex 90 is the follow-up to The Girl Hunters, in which Hammer took on the KGB. I've enjoyed all of the Collins/Spillane Hammer hybrids, but this might be my favorite one yet. I have a real soft spot for Hammer gunning down dirty damn Commies, it just seems so RIGHT. I'm not sure what it says about me that, even though in real life I'm a pretty soft-hearted guy who would be horrified by ever seeing genuine gun violence, most of my favorite books are two-fisted rootin'-tootin' shoot-em-ups like this. Anyway, this is a great one and Collins continues to do the Spillane legacy proud.

What delighted me the most about this book, though, were the ads in the back-- it seems that Titan, in addition to continuing the adventures of Mike Hammer, have also brought Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm books back into print as well. If you like Hammer, you'll love Helm. Never mind about those idiot movies with Dean Martin. Trust me on this.


The Lone Ranger: 75th Anniversary Collection - Seasons 1 and 2 from Classic Media Inc.The blurb: Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear...when with one jaunty call, "Hi-Yo, Silver!" the Lone Ranger solidified his role as America's favorite hero of the Wild West. Mounted atop a white stallion, he remains a steadfast symbol for truth and justice, capturing the hearts and imaginations of generations of fans. Celebrate the Lone Ranger's 75th anniversary with this 13-disc collector's edition DVD, featuring seasons 1 & 2 of the original TV series.

What Our Reviewer Thought: This one's all mine as well. With the new movie version from Disney on the horizon, it's a safe bet that we're about to be inundated with Ranger-related merchandise, especially since the early Clayton Moore TV episodes have fallen into the public domain. So I thought I'd put in a good word for this set before the deluge. If you are going to get a copy of the old Ranger TV shows, THIS is the set to have. Someone actually took some time and trouble to put this set together.

Many of these shows were new to me, since in syndicated reruns most local stations tend to concentrate on the color episodes. But these hold up really well, and the fight choreography is just a thing of beauty... they really knew how to do cowboy fistfights back then. There are many cool extras, including a really nice souvenir book and facsimile trading cards and even a (tiny) reprint of a vintage Ranger comic. But for me the truly AWESOME extra feature was the inclusion of an entire episode of the 1966 Lone Ranger cartoon.

That was my first Lone Ranger, and you never really get over your first. The cartoons themselves are sort of demented but there's something compelling about the jerky animation and weirdly angular style.

And anyway, I can't help myself, it's a childhood nostalgia thing for me. You can get this set for around twenty bucks on Amazon and if you like the Ranger that is a hell of a deal.


And that's it, this time out. Gotta get back to work. Hope you enjoyed these and I'll see you next week.

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