Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blast from an Unknown Past, pt. 1

For your enjoyment, here's one of two completed Speculative Friction entries which didn't get posted at Speculative Friction's former home,


"building the perfect beast"

Yeah, it's been over a month this time. I know, I know.

However, there's more than a little truth to that bon mot which observes that "real life" interferes with the best laid plans of man and beast and all that. I knew that I'd lose at least a week, possibly two, what with the travel time and requisite recuperation from attending the very well attended and extremely fun Spring 2006 Motor City convention last month. What I didn't count on was catching one of the worst cases of "con cold with a cough" I've ever had the displeasure of dealing with. Another two weeks-plus lost to just lying about the house, trying just to breath freely and without coughing up something that's supposed to stay inside of my body. And then there was the two weeks-plus lost to something I can only refer to as "stupid family tricks" and other "real life" necessities which demanded all of my still-drained energies and attention.

All of which brings us to the end of June. Halfway through the year already, a full week into the official Summer of '06, and I'm still kinda wondering where Spring went.

Still, rather than throw up my hands, I'll be doing my best to start posting at least every other week, if not every week, starting this week for the foreseeable future. However, because I am so far behind on the short reviews I've been doing of everything I've been reading, there's a chance that some books won't get much of a review herein; I apologize in advance for that, but I can only do so much this far after the fact.

Not bad news, per se, but not great news, either. But I do have something of note to share this time out...

A behind the scenes glimpse of how the cover for my next book, Alan Moore's Exit Interview was created.

It all started with José Villarrubia's wonderful photo of Alan, which he had electronically tinted before sending it my way.

José's one of the two photographers that Alan recommends using when searching for an author pic to go with an article about him or his work. I think if you spend even a little time examining this example of his work, you'll soon see why Jose is so well-respected by both Alan and so many others in the field. It's a portrait, true, and one which a lot of folks could have tried to duplicate. However, I don't know of a whole lot of them who can capture, so effectively and subtly, the inner essence of their subjects in quite the same way as José. There's a sense of life in his pics that you just don't see that often anymore, and the same can be said of his prodigious coloring and other graphic skills.

And that's a good part of the battle won, right there. Start with a dynamite and dynamic cover photograph, and the rest is [seemingly] easy.

Next, Paul spent a few hours playing with it. Sadly, since he's half a continent away, I can't give you all the nitty gritty and details on the different approaches he might have tried before coming up with this:

To be honest, we almost could have gone with this version. It's eye catching use of color and graphics, combined with an immaculate layout offer a lot of info and visual excitement with but a glancing contact. However, I do believe that the subject of the book needs to be foremost and easily identified for sale purposes, so I suggest that he pump up the font size of Alan's name. The only other alteration I suggested at that point--and yeah, I'm fully aware it's just a niggling and minor a change, which is one of the ways I know that Paul's work is extremely solid--was to make the capital "I" on "Interview" more similar to the lower case "i" within the word.

Within a half hour I got this from PMK:

Which was just about perfect. My final note was that I'd like it if Paul could reduce the gap between the letters "e'" and "s" in Alan's last name.

Yeah, OK. That's when I got really picky. Paul happily took care of the kerning [i.e. a term which refers to the spacing between letters], and delivered this final version of the cover within minutes:

From the time I sent out the original pics and cover text, to this final version took a total of about three hours. However, when I asked Paul how long it actually took him to create the original piece and do the tweaks on his end, he reminded me that he was actually doing this on the side, in between his other daily graphic design assignments which are constantly called in from his main employer.

Yeah, you read that correctly: This was all done between his "real" work, over the course of three hours. His estimate for total time spent on the piece was between an hour and a half and two hours.

For that kind of work.

Paul's just amazing, in my opinion, and anyone looking for a book or graphics designer would be doing themselves a huge favor by talking with this young lion about helping them out. Seriously good work at a fair price, all done in a reasonable amount of time and to order. Plus, he gets it, a sadly rare commodity at the best of times.

You'll find his contact info via the link to his website, which you'll find at the bottom of this and every page of Blood in the Gutters. And don't hesitate to let him know that I sent ya his way.

And that's it for this time out. Next week, back to the critical insights and full reviews of everything I'll be reading this week. Speaking of which, it's now time for...

What's Bill been reading this week?

5-17-06 to 6-27-06 [part 1]

War Fix

Why would anyone who doesn't have to go to a war zone willing travel there with the intention of placing ones self into danger to report on it? What drives a war journalist to do what s/he does? And, perhaps more importantly, what does the job cost for those folks who do such work...and what's the cost to those who love them? Hard questions for a hard time, true, but this book tackles them and others with some real effect. This OGN is smart without being snide or cynical, humane without being sentimental or overly self-absorbed, and delivers a killer punch. Yet another example of a good book to hand those people who insist that "comics is just for kids stuff." Bravo and kudos are due writer David Axe, Illustrator Steven Olexa and NBM for this fine book. Recommended without reservation.

An original graphic novel about the life of a war correspondent reporting on today's conflict in the Mideast
NBM Comics Lit

Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul

At long last, the epic tale begun by Bill Mumy [the original Will Robinson] and artist Michal Dutkiewicz last decade has been completed and compiled in a nice, think full color trade paperback by Bubblehead Publishing, and the result is quite impressive, indeed. If you're looking for campy, silly sci-fi, you'd be best served to look elsewhere. That's because, while there are plenty of real laughs provided at key moments, this series takes its cue from the early episodes of that prime time television series, seeking to tell a more serious and meaningful story with these characters. This is an adventure that doesn't just ape that popular show, but rather tests the limits of Irwin Allen's original concept and attendant characters, and finds them worthy vehicles for thoughtful and entertaining science fiction that explores what it means to be human. Which is the whole point of the genre, really.

A collection which compiles and completes the previously unfinished series originally published by Innovation
Bubblehead Publishing, Inc.


This first collection of Frank Espinosa's superb post apocalypse science fiction fantasy series somehow manages to contain all sorts of objects of wonder, awe inspiring feats of heroism and downright strange occurrences, all of which ultimately serve to create not just a strange new world, but an entire universe that is breathtaking in its scope and originality. I could rant and rave for pages about how good this collection, and the bimonthly issues, really are. Just go out and buy it, then sit down and devour the entire book, preferably in one sitting as I did. And prepare to be amazed and delighted and all kinds of other good things. Seriously, just go buy it now!

The first collection of an ongoing highly original science fiction series
Image Comics

Dr. Gorpon: Monsters Beware

I just dig Mark Hansen's work, be it on Ralph Snart or one of his own creations such as this. Completely unhinged and over-the-top weird superhero adventures as conceived by Big Daddy Roth on the best acid, ever, it makes me laugh, very hard and out loud, every time--a truly rare feat for a comic. Marc Hansen is one of the unrecognized geniuses of the medium, and its my hope that we get to see some new work from him sooner than later.

Trade paperback collection of the miniseries
Now Comics

The Lone and Level Sands

This is a retelling of the book of Exodus achieves the nearly impossible feat of presenting a well known tale of epic proportions which remains, to the end, a very human tale of two brothers and their fates. A really amazing book, really, and one which holds lessons of all sorts for those willing to seek them out, this is an exceptional example of the modern graphic novel. It's won a number of awards, and deserved each of them, and probably a few others it didn't manage to snag. Highly recommended, if only to enjoy the interplay between A. David Lewis's fine script, mp Mann's solid storytelling and line work, and the subtle but telling coloring of Jennifer Rogers.

An original graphic novel recounting the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt
Archaia Studios Press

Wonder Woman archives volume 4

This fourth volume of the Golden Age adventures of William Moulton's amazing Amazon princess builds upon the strong foundation laid out in the previous installments. Even better, I swear that the art, which was already nice and befitting the strip, just keeps getting stronger. Really wonderful stuff, and it's fitting that DC continues this reprinting of the early escapades of one of their three lynch pin icons.

The latest hardcover book recaptures the Golden Age of this vital character.
DC Comics

Robin archives volume 1

I've heard for years about how good these solo adventures of Batman's sidekick were, and I'm happy to say that these tales are very very good, indeed. If anything, the reports of the quality of storytelling, both verbal and visual, have been understating the case. Quite simply, some of the best art and stories in any of the Golden Age reprints that DC's been issuing under the archives program. Highly recommended.

The first hardcover collection of Robin solo tales from Star Spangled Comics.
DC Comics

Flash archives volume 4

The reprint series of the title that instigated the whole Silver Age continues, presenting some of the seminal battles between Barry "Flash" Allen and his ever-expanding Rogues Gallery, hits some of the high notes of that early run. Inspired concepts married to impeccable draughtsmanship resulted in some of the best stories of those halcyon days. Worth the price of admission just for Carmine Infantino's covers and art alone, this entire series of reprints is highly recommended.

Fourth of the ongoing hardcover reprinting of the Scarlet Speedster's early stories
DC Comics

Golden Age Flash archives volume 2

This strip captures all the sheer energy and lunacy of the 1940s superhero and directs it all into some of the most fantastic, fun and funny tales ever committed to paper. And the fact that Jay Garrick can at times seem like the Godfather of the stereotypical sarcastic slackers of today only adds some real spice to the proceedings, while his prickly relationship with his paramour adds some heat. Perfect reading for the hot days of Summer.

The second hardcover reprinting the 1940s adventures of DC's original speedster
DC Comics

Doom Patrol archives volume 3

The original terribly gifted hard luck heroes argue and fight among themselves almost as much as they do battle with their absolutely surreal foes. Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani created some of the most singular comics of their--or any other--day. I honestly can't praise this excellent series enough; by turns snide and cynical before veering into compassion and almost transgressional exploration of the effects being different might have on regular folks, this comic told us more about its characters [and by extension, ourselves] in 2 pages than most books are able to accomplish in 20. And it did it all with a decidedly mature-minded approach, forcing the characters to grow and change and evolve despite their and the genre's inclination, a feat largely unheard of before then. This and all the companion books in this series have my highest recommendations, and they are absolutely essential reading for anyone who has any real interest in understanding the superhero genre and its history.

The third collection of reprints featuring the original "superheroes are freaks" title
DC Comics

Supergirl archives volume 1

Despite being hemmed in by the editorial restrictions of the character--Supergirl was, like her cousin, an orphan from Krypton and graced with powers beyond human...but promised to remain hidden, a secret weapon for good--this series has a freshness and sense of adventure that remains intact to this day. Which is kinda surprising, especially considering the barely [or perhaps I should say "rarely"] hidden chauvinist subtext, but this character and her creators found countless ways to circumvent these shackles to not just solve the problem at hand, but also provide the reader with some solid and entertaining tales. Lots of fun, and a time capsule of sorts into the mindset of Cold War-era America.

The first hardcover collection of the Maid of Steel's introduction and early adventures
DC Comics

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men volume 6

This volume collects the final issues of the original run of the House of Idea's merry mutants. A lot has been made of Neil Adam's contributions to this era of the strip, and with good reason. But the solid and versatile work of Don Heck on the final issues of the series also deserve some attention, as do the scripts of Arnold Drake and Roy Thomas. Even better, this volume contains probably the second-best Sentinels storyline [their introduction early on this series being the best]. I cannot recommend this particular volume highly enough. And, actually, it's probably worth the price of admission to check out the Neil Adams pencils included at the back of the book. Gorgeous and exciting work all the way around.

The sixth hardcover collection of the original adventures of the X-Men
Marvel Comics

Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel volume 1

This strip was one of my favorite when growing up. I was really intrigued by the basic concept of the character [basically, a nonhuman spy masquerading as a hero...who slowly becomes the hero he portrays publicly], and just blown away by Gene Colan's lush and evocative pencils. Classic Marvel comics at their best.

The first hardcover collection of the House of Idea's extraterrestrial antihero
Marvel Comics

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four volume 10

There's real reason to celebrate the release of this latest collection of Marvel's self-proclaimed "Best Comic in the World!" And while Kirby was on this book, that claim might just have been absolutely true. Herein you'll find all but the very final issues of this team book that Jack "The King" Kirby created with his long-time partner, Stan Lee. In fact, this is some of Kirby's last work for Marvel at that time, and it's almost heartbreaking to realize that, in a very real sense, these two had really just hit their stride on the series. While that might be one of the great "might have been" tragedies of comics, it does nothing to negate the sheer genius and madness contained in this package. If you're going to claim to know comics, and you've never read these stories or their predecessors, you're just pretending or fooling yourself, folks. Absolutely essential stuff for anyone and everyone, whether in this format or the more easily afforded Essential black and white reprints. Better yet, these tales are still wildly entertaining and a joy to read. Get it now.

The tenth hardcover reprinting the entire early run of this seminal superhero team book
Marvel Comics

Superman archives volume 7

The art and the stories in this latest reprint collection of the Man of Steel's adventures in his eponymous book contains some of the best art and stories in the series yet. Having missed much of this material--hey, I ain't that old!--I'm really enjoying the chance to get to know this early version of the Man of Tomorrow. And I look forward to learning more when the next volume of the reprint series is issued. Classic material that deserves a place in any serious collector's library.

Seventh hardcover reprinting of the original superhero's early adventures
DC Comics

Catwoman: When in Rome

This exceedingly fine book collects the mini-series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and dovetails quite nicely with their earlier work featuring the Dark Knight [Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory] which detail the early years of Gotham City's caped crusader. However, even with the tie-in being apparent, this tale works on its own. Filled with great dramatic moments, twists and turns, as well as some exceptional images and visual sequences, this is a worthy addition to any collection.

Compilation of the mini-series of the same name
DC Comics

Ice Run

I don't like a whole lot of mysteries, although I do like Steve Hamilton's Edgar Award-winning series, which is set in my home environs of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But it's really more about the characters, both main and supporting, as well as the intricately plotted twists and turns, than solving the crime for me. There's a pace and voice here that is recognizable, yet utterly distinctive and charming. This and the other books in Hamilton's series featuring Alex McKnight are highly recommended, although it really might be best to read them in order of publication starting with the initial installment, Cold Day in Paradise.

The latest installment of a mystery series set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Thomas Dunne Books

Fear Itself

Walter Mosley is one of the foremost stylist writing today, in just about any genre, IMHO. And this installment in his Fearless Jones series of books provides ample examples for that claim. This is prose that is beguiling and personal, and capable of tearing the reader's heart out with a simple turn of phrase. And the mystery at the center of it all is truly intriguing and original, one that remains both logical and human. Another tour de force, and recommended for those looking to see how clean, clear and yet evocative one of the best in the business can be.

The most recent mystery featuring Mosely's Fearless Jones
Little, Brown

Ray Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars

This collection of essays, considering everything from his childhood influences and involvement with city and amusement park planning, by an acknowledge master storyteller might not be essential reading, but it sure does provide some deep and interesting insights into Bradbury's mind and proclivities. And for those of us who are real fans, if nothing else there is that rich, sour-sweet Midwestern voice that makes one believe that Ray could do his version of the phone book and make it sing.

A collection of essays by the modern master of whimsical and fantastic fiction
William Morrow

And that's probably enough for now. This listing, along with reviews of more recently-read books, will follow next week. Until then, take care and enjoy!


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