Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pre-Web Books: the Comics Edition

The Watchmen graphic novel has been making itself the master of various bestseller charts for a little while now, probably cementing in perpetuity its position as the iconic example of the entire medium. Can't complain too much about that, since it's undeniably a rather fine piece of work, and remains pretty much the last word as far as superhero comics are concerned, despite having been published over 20 years ago now.

DC comics have got an ambitious (and I suspect largely futile, unfortunately) initiative devoted to trying to persuade those who are coming to the comics medium for the first time as the result of Watchmen mania to try some other stuff they may never have heard of before. Which struck me as a good enough excuse for me to once again parade a handful of my own preferences and hobby horses, since there are quite a few comics (or graphic novels, as we're supposed to call them nowadays, in the hope of imbuing them with some kind of dignity) that came out before the internet existed to spread word of their goodness. Stuff which is well known and revered within comic geek circles, but maybe not quite as well known as it deserves to be out there in the land of 'comics are for kids'.

No superhero tomfoolery here (which isn't as dismissive as it might sound, since I quite like a bit of superhero tomfoolery now and again, personally - well, not personally, since me-in-spandex would be pretty much a synonym for "No! Just No! Please, somebody cover that up!", but you know what I mean.). Anyway, this is a different kind of comics, which even those with an allergy to superheroics might find of interest:

Concrete by Paul Chadwick. Man's brain is transplanted into virtually-indestructible, clunky stone body. Were this a superhero book, crazy battles with eeeeevil supervillains would ensue, but it's not, so instead we get exploration: literal exploration of remote and hostile bits of the world, and not-so-literal exploration of human relationships and behaviour. It's gentle, humane, often funny, sometimes sad, occasionally perhaps just a little too worthy and thoughtful. Now reprinted in a very nice series of collected editions.

Ronin by Frank Miller. What Frank Miller did before he did Dark Knight Returns and Sin City and 300 etc. It's a mad, dark, slightly bewildering (at least it was for me) fusion of samurai vs. demons saga and near-future technothriller. An early work - and perhaps not quite as polished as some of his other stuff, for that very reason - from a highly distinctive artist and writer. Good stuff.

American Flagg! by Howard Chaykin. Crime and sex and politics and media craziness in a near future dystopia. Almost Bladerunner-like in its attention to peripheral detail and the texture of the world, and expects a pretty similar level of attention from its readers, if they're to follow the complicated plots and multitude of characters. Brash and brazen and unlike anything else I've ever read in comics - at least there's nothing quite like it I can think of right now.

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot. Page after page of awesome, IMHO. Alternate history, parallel universes, Cromwellian stormtroopers on motorcycles, tantric sex, doomsday weapons, a glamorous and charismatic title character flitting between worlds and timelines, all of it beautifully drawn. And all of it as British as fish and chips. Brilliant.

Love & Rockets (the Palomar stories) by Gilbert Hernandez. All the stories produced by the two Hernandez brothers in Love & Rockets magazine/comic have now been reprinted in chronological collected editions. They're pretty unique, and not to everyone's taste I imagine, but I like more or less all of them. The most serious and substantial are Gilbert Hernandez's tales of the inhabitants of the little Latin American town of Palomar (volumes 2 and 4 in the collected editions). Flashes of magical realism, but at its heart it's a saga of the lives - full of little pleasures and not inconsiderable suffering - of ordinary people, told in unflinching detail. This is, I think, comics as high literature.

Previous installments of pre-web books wafflings are to be found here and here and here, by the way.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Trio of Trifles

So there's this book tournament going on see, over at bookspotcentral. It's a knockout deal, and Bloodheir's in the first round - but going no further unless it gets the votes! So should anyone happen to be a member over there, maybe voting for Bloodheir might be a possibility? Not saying you have to, just saying ... you could. You know. If you wanted. If you've nothing better to do.

Arguably better to do would be browsing a fun website for writers, aspiring or otherwise, and readers and viewers come to that: tv tropes. It's got seriously extensive lists and descriptions for all kinds of themes and conventions that show up in fiction of all sorts, not just TV writing. Handily organised into sub-categories, too, including one devoted to speculative fiction. Hours of diverting browsing. Plus it's a wiki, so the whole thing's user generated and edited.

And many a true word is spoken in jest. In support of which contention I direct you towards this instalment of Penny Arcade.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Further Book Matters (and a curse)

Does it betray some weird psycho-sexual dysfunction (phallic insecurity, perhaps?) that my first reaction upon receiving the huge box containing my author copies of Fall of Thanes was to pile them all up into a tower and take a photo of it? Probably not, though I wouldn't dismiss the possibility entirely. Behold my mighty book tower! See how it ... towers.

Clearly, since these have shown up on my doorstep - and looking very fine at that - publication of the third and final part of the trilogy is now unavoidable. Early May, in a shop near you (or online if there're no shops near you, of course). For those thinking of putting in an order, a reminder: should you be tempted by the thought of a signed, dedicated etc copy of Fall of Thanes all of your own, the place to go is the Transreal website. Click on my name at top right for all the details, but the most important point is that it'll only cost you cover price plus shipping. Bargain!

While on the subject of books, I have been rectifying a shocking gap in my genre reading. Until this last week or two, my sole experience of Conan the barbarian was the long ago and rather dubious movies featuring a certain US politician in the title role. Now, I'm pleased to say, I'm making up for lost time by working my way through this gorgeous book - close to a thousand pages of pulpy, politically incorrect sword and sorcery merriment. I'm enjoying it considerably more than I thought I might, and for all the lack of 'polish' that occasionally crops up in the writing (these stories were being turned out incredibly quickly, after all), I've been struck by what an effective writer Robert E. Howard really is. There's some seriously vivid and atmospheric work going on, alongside all the vigourous hewing and hacking and thumping. Great fun. How come I never read this stuff before? Idiot.

And finally, to the person or persons responsible for ms antispyware 2009, I have only this to say: may your toenails shrivel and crack, and turn yellow and crusty and stinky, flaking off into your socks bit by bit until they are all gone, leaving only a suppurating blisters where once they lay. And if your stupid little malware gets on my PC again, I hope the suppuration spreads up your legs until it reaches areas more vital than toes. So there.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Seeing Red

The mass market paperback editions of Bloodheir are released in the UK and US around the end of this month. The US version has just fallen into my grubby little hands, and I can't resist doing a little public admiration of it. Behold how (a) red and (b) cool it is:


Looks particularly fine alongside the equivalent edition of Winterbirth, I think. Also raises the obvious question of what variation can we expect when the time comes to give Fall of Thanes its paperback clothes? Blue? Grey? Pink? No idea, in fact, but I'm looking forward to finding out (so long as it's not pink). Setting aside the question of whether the text inside the covers is any good or not, there can't be much doubt that the covers themselves for this series have been great eye candy. Score one (or three, I suppose, since it's a trilogy) for Orbit.

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