Thursday, November 24, 2011


     Once you get beyond the things you're really thankful for -- the wonderful dinner, the family and friends you're sharing it with, the opportunities life has afforded you -- you come to the less vast but still significant things, the art and stories that lighten and enrich our days on a smaller scale.  Here are a couple of those things I'm thankful for right now:

The Binscombe Tales by John Whitbourn - I haven't started them yet, but these short stories about a small English village where people find themselves tormented by whispering voices or spend their entire lives waiting for a bus  sound very weird, and I do like weird.

Avengers Academy - It can be difficult to find something fresh in mainstream superhero comics, but this story of a troubled bunch of teenagers struggling through training with the world's premiere super-group has deep (and often dark) characterizations and dazzling intrigue.

The Descendents - George Clooney's new film about a family in turmoil is wonderful all around but also has the most beautiful last scene I've ever seen in a movie.

12 Angry Men on Blue Ray - About humanity and having the integrity to stand up for it.  Surely one of the best movies ever made.

     Happy Thanksgiving.  Don't let it pass you by without a good turkey joke.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Graphic Novels in Your School Library

     Graphic Novels in Your School Library, written by yours truly and illustrated by Rush Kress, is available now.  For more information about it and for excerpts from the book, have a look at the page linked here.  If you're interested in a copy for yourself, it's available for order here and at all the other internet book resources you might imagine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beyond the Pale

     The independent horror director/producer Larry Fessenden got together with some fellow, off-the-beaten-path horror masterminds and came up with a beautifully produced series of audio stories called Tales from Beyond the Pale that harken back to old time radio shows, but have distinctly contemporary tones, themes and content. 
     Every story has a full voice cast and, so far, the two that particularly stand out for me are Mr. Fessenden's own eerie and tragic The Hole Digger from Volume 1 and Graham Reznick's disturbing and semi-surreal The Grandfather (starring Angus Scrimm, the terrifying Tall Man from Phantasm in something of a departure) from Volume 3.
    The absence of imagery, or course, allows imagination to flow in and fill that void, thanks to strong writing -- that's the whole point of doing something in this format, I would think --  and a powerful sense of atmosphere and dread pervades each story.  For my money, that dread, that sense of imminent and inevitable doom, is what makes the most effective horror work.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Design of Our Lives

     A few days ago, I saw a documentary called Urbanized, which was about the design of cities.  Among several interesting things contained therein (including, for instance, why movable chairs are preferable to fixed-in-place chairs for public seating), something particularly struck me.  The point was made that everything in a city is designed.  That is, everything we see and experience and interact with in a city has been specifically conceived so that we interact with it in an intended way.  The trees throughout a city, someone noted, are placed by design.  This, I suppose, should not come as a terrible shock.  I never really thought that we built a city and left holes in the bottom of it for trees to grow up where they wanted to.  But it seems that even the height of the trees is designed.  Presumably, types of trees are chosen so that their height will offer a particular amount of shade over a certain area, not interfere with artificial light from lamposts, be set back far enough from the street so as not to cause trouble for people parking cars.  This is a level of design detail governing my interaction with the world that I had not expected.
     So, you get to thinking, is this only true of cities?  Are more rural environments less design-heavy?  Well, imagine looking down from an airplane at those huge, perfectly constructed square and rectangular sections of landscape.  Those didn't grow that way by themselves.
     Just how much are our lives defined by the design of others?  Is that just how human beings adapt to and tame their environments, by designing them to human specification?  Just how far does the design of others determine who we are?
     There's a book in here somewhere.