Years ago, the Comics Journal (or maybe it was Amazing Heroes -- it was one of them, anyway) used to do this thing called the Summer Reading list. It's about what it sounds like. Basically, they just asked a bunch of comics pros and other folks around the business what they were reading for fun, and then printed the list of who was reading what.
I always enjoyed that, because I am nosy about other people's books and liked seeing what various comics industry people read for pleasure, and the list almost always led me to some books I'd never have run across otherwise. It's the same reason I enjoy our other Greg's periodic "What I'm Reading" posts.
So I decided to revive the Summer Reading List for this week's column. I asked a random sampling of people in and around comics, books, and writing to share their summer beach reading.... "random sampling" meaning comics professionals I had an e-mail address for that I hoped wouldn't dismiss the request as spam. Blessedly, most of them answered. Here's what they sent back.
Rachel Edidin, Dark Horse editor: I know I'm omitting a fair lot, but here's what I remember off the top of my head; a mix of the completed, in-progress, and prospective reads, in no particular order:
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard RhodesFluffy by Simone Lia
Sunnyside by Glen David GoldStraight Man by Richard RussoWhat It Is by Lynda BarryChunks of the online Apollo Program document archive (I'm a NASA history junkie).
A whole slew of zines and minicomics that I picked up at Portland Zine Symposium.
Highlights include a handful of Jennie Hinchcliff's mail art zines; Boys, by Riley Michael Parker; and a lot of back issues of City of Roses, by Kip Manley.
Thanks. That was fun.
Tom Beland, True Story Swear To God: Ahhhh... the beach. A place where I can grab a handful of comics, my Ipod and one of those coconut rum thingies served in an actual coconut... and enjoy some amazing stories as my whiteness literally makes three people defecate in their swimsuit.
Well, just like you all, I've got a list of books that have made it worth making others lose their eyesight. And those books would be:
Iron Man. Of all the characters at Marvel... I totally don't understand Tony Stark. He's rarely interested me in any way, except for the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline back in the day. But Matt Fraction totally brought me into it. I'm digging Tony Stark and man, every issue is just rocking cool.
New Mutants by Zeb Wells. Dear Lord... this series is as cool as 7-11 Slurpee Cups back in the day. Can't wait to see what's next.
Blackest Night from DC. I KNOW!!! DC!!! Although I got the feeling about halfway through the first issue that "DC" stood for "DECEASED CHARACTERS." Very cool... very creepy. Lovin' it.
RASL by Jeff Smith. It just doesn't get better than new Jeff Smith work to consume.
Tony Isabella, writer of Tony's Online Tips, Black Lightning, and more 1970s Marvel scripts than I could ever hope to list: While sorting comic books and other review items sent my way, I came across Noble Causes Archives Volume Two. I'd enjoyed the few issues I'd read of the series, so I ordered Volume One from Amazon and am reading that in between other things.
I also found Savage Dragon Archives Volume Two and plan to get Volume One in the near future. I know I'm not Erik Larsen's target audience for the series, but I admire the heck out of him for sticking with something he obviously loves for so long. I've always wanted to read the series from start to finish...and this will be a good start.
In prose fiction, via the library, I'm re-reading Ed McBain's wonderful 87th Precinct books - Don McGregor introduced me to this treasure back when we were both at Marvel - and reading Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich novels.
In comics, via the library, I'm reading Preacher and Usagi Yojimbo. I have already read all the available collections that the library had of Barefoot Gen and The Boys. When I finish Preacher, I plan to move on to Fables. Now I have a lot of these trades already - just as I have all the McBain books - but they are deep in storage. It's just easier to read them this way.
Chip Mosher, writer of Left On Mission and the guy that keeps all of us here at CSBG caught up on everything at Boom! Studios sent us this list:
Comics - Catching up on Brubaker's Captain America run - he used to do LowLife, kids!Asterios Polyp - Mazzucchelli's sequential work here is genius.
Reich #1-5 - a new find. Great stuff.Berlin Vol. 2 - Lutes is a master storyteller. Probably my favorite comic ever.
The Hunter - Parker meets Cooke. You can't go wrong with this.
Books- I always end up re-reading The Shark-Infested Custard by Charles Willeford, my all time favorite novel by my all time favorite novelist.Money Shot by Christa Faust - a new find. She's a spectacular writer.
I'll probably break some spines on my paperback collection of Carter Brown novels. I love the old pulps.
Those Robert McGinnis covers are epic.I can't wait to pick up Blood's A Rover by James Ellroy this September.And I might try to pick up that new Pynchon crime book, Inherent Vice.
Steve Lieber, of Periscope Studios and Whiteout: I'm reading a few books right now. The first one isn't fun, but it sure is gripping.
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronxby Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Hometown Boyby Rafael Alvarez
Filter Houseby Nisi Shawl
Hell to Payby George Pelecanos
Kurt Mitchell, co-author of the All-Star Companion books from TwoMorrows (Volume Four of which is now available at finer comics retailers everywhere): This will go down in my autobiography as My Cataract Summer so my summer reading list is shorter than it would be most years. Still, I managed to swallow a tome or two.
Evolution: The First Four Billion Years was certainly my most ambitious read. A massive anthology with an awesome roster of contributors, it offers an up-to-the-minute (as of early 2009), state-of-the-science survey of the field.
The first half of the book is a collection of essays on such topics as the history of evolutionary thinking, the origin(s) of life on Earth, Darwinian gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium, speciation processes, human evolution, the role of evolution in modern medicine and the continuing debate between evolutionists and the advocates of intelligent design and "scientific" creationism. The second half is an encyclopedia covering facets of the science not covered in the essays, including biographies of the most prominent thinkers in the field (historical and contemporary) and reviews of the major works in its literature. Edited by prominent scientists Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, the book is written at a level any literate layman can grasp—though I freely admit I was out of my depth in such topics as organic chemistry and molecular biology—and should give the attentive reader a good grounding in the subject.
On a much lighter note, I thoroughly enjoyed Kirby, King of Comics, Mark Evanier’s biography of comic book legend Jack Kirby.
There’s been no shortage of Kirby interviews, analyses and critiques over the years but nobody has brought the pieces together as effectively as Evanier does here. His evenhandedness in addressing the controversies that linger around the Kirby legend, his refusal to either whitewash his faults or ignore his virtues, is a breath of fresh air in our contemporary tabloid tell-all world and especially admirable in an author writing about his personal friend and mentor. Lushly produced and lavishly illustrated, it is a fitting introduction for the general reader to one of our medium’s towering geniuses and a must-have for any super-hero comics fan’s library.
I also read, for the first time in thirty-plus years, two classic Alexandre Dumas novels, The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.
The first was fun, full of improbable heroics, breathless adventure and unforgettable characters (I nominate Milady DeWinter for literature’s most hateful bitch). The last of the Musketeer novels, Iron Mask is slow, cynical, fatalistic, saddled with endless scenes of superfluous dialogue and occasionally incoherent, as befits a book that is actually the last third of a larger novel. Kinda the French equivalent of going from the ‘40s Batman to the ‘90s Batman.
As far as honest-to-god comic books goes, I’m working my way through a complete run of Master of Kung Fu.
Whenever comics geeks discuss Marvel’s best books of the 1970s, MoKF is inevitably mentioned and deservedly so. Created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, what could have been a heartless, mindless attempt to cash in on two hot cultural trends of the early ‘70s—martial arts and pulp character revivals—was from the beginning a thoughtful, even poetic, exploration of the search for spirituality and honor in a violent world that respects and values neither, without forgetting that it was also a colorful action series pitting pajama-clad pacifist and kung fu whiz kid Shang-Chi against his father, the immortal and malevolent Dr. Fu Manchu and other nasty would-be worldbeaters. A series noted for its complex plots, subtle characterization and spectacular fight scenes, it features the career-best work of longtime writer Doug Moench and artists Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck and Gene Day. I’m loving every minute of it.
Novelist Chris Roberson, the man behind MonkeyBrain Books: Until a couple of weeks ago I was serving on the jury of this year’s World Fantasy Awards, which entailed reading everything published in 2008 that could conceivably be called “fantasy.” Since wrapping up the judging, I’ve been desperate to read just for fun. So what have I been cramming into my brain?
Roadmarks, Roger Zelazny
I came late to the Zelazny party, only reading a short story or two of his before I turned 30, but I’ve been making up for lost time as quick as I can. My friend Bill Willingham, who is a dyed-in-the-wool Zelazny fanatic, was flabbergasted that I’d never even heard of Zelazny’s time-travel/road-trip novel Roadmarks before. I just finished the book earlier this week, sorry I didn’t read it years ago. (Not least of which because of the surprised guest appearance by a certain bronzed-skinned pulp adventurer, among others.) Now it’s kicked off a minor Zelazny-frenzy in my head, and I’m revisiting Creatures of Light and Darkness at this very moment.
The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke, et al
I’m midway through reading Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s The Hunter, and loving it, but as it happens I was already gradually working my way through a reread of Cooke’s The New Frontier, so it’s interesting to switch gears back and forth. I haven’t reread The New Frontier since it was published a half-decade or so ago, and revisiting it now I’m discovering that it’s even better than I remembered. Ranks among the best superhero comics DC has ever published (and, and by extension, the best superhero comics anyone has ever published).
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow.
The first book I read when I got out from under the geas of the WFA was Morrow’s funny and thoughtful examination of monster movies and atomic holocaust, Shambling Towards Hiroshima. Here Morrow literalizes the “Godzilla as symbol for the atomic bomb” by revealing the secret history of a parallel program to the Manhattan Project to breed giant mutated iguanas to invade Japan, all told through the eyes of the star of b-picture monster flicks.
The Sun Inside, David J. Schwartz
This novella by David Schwartz (the author of the novel Superpowers, which is still on my To Read shelf but about which I’ve heard good things) was a pleasant surprise that cropped up in the submissions for the World Fantasy Award. Published by the small press Rabit Transit Press, The Sun Inside is the story of a modern day war vet, wounded in Iraq, who meets a woman on a singles’ website and travels to meet her in person. When he finds himself in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar, things take an odd turn. Somewhat downbeat and introspective, and deservedly so given the subject matter, the novella is nonetheless packed with all sorts of thoughtful reexamination of ERB’s pulp landscape, and recommended for anyone who enjoyed the original Inner Earth tales.
Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory.
This is a bit of a cheat, as I read this one last fall, but I only wish that I hadn’t—so I could read it again now for the first time. Here’s what I said about it when I reviewed it on my blog last fall:
“Pandemonium is Daryl Gregory's first book-length work to be published, and to my thinking it's the single best debut novel I've read in years. The back cover blurb doesn't even begin to do this book justice. This is the story of Del Pierce, a guy who dreamed of being an artist and whose dreams haven't worked out quite as he planned. Del lives in America, but it isn't quite our America. This is a world in which, for at least sixty years and possibly quite a bit longer, various individuals have, for varying lengths of time, been 'possessed.' By demons? Possibly. By telepathic mutant 'slan' who control them at a distance? Unlikely, but not impossible. By free-roaming personalities dredged from Carl Jung's 'collective unconsciousness'? Just maybe. But what does it mean that these demons/personalities/etc. so often appear in the forms of heroes from comic books and pulp novels? The Captain, shield-wielding super-soldier; the Truth, a grim avenger in fedora and trench coat, with twin .45s and a menacing laugh; the Boy Marvel, a hero in red tights and a white cape with a boyish smile. Or that another of the 'demons' is called Valis and possesses an elderly science fiction writer named Philip K. Dick?”
If you’re anything like me, you can’t read that description and not want to rush out and dive right into the book. And you wouldn’t regret it. Pandemonium is one hell of a book, and well worth seeking out.
...and there you have it. Many, many thanks to those industry folk who responded.
As for me, I have the usual pile of books to be read on my nightstand; this week saw the arrival of The Lone Ranger Rides North, another Fran Striker Lone Ranger novel from 1946, as well as Enemies and Allies, the new Superman-Batman prose novel from Kevin Anderson.
Those probably will get written up in this space at some point, but you can bet I'll also be on the lookout for some of the items mentioned by our panel of respondents above. I hope this list leads you to some fun reads too.
See you next week.