Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tease V

     With only about two months to go before its release, here is another bit from What We Become.  This is a part of an exchange in progress between Mal and a new character named Rose.

     "How do you know all this?" Rose asked.
     "It was all over newsblogs and the HD," Mal replied.
     "I never heard about it."
     "You just forgot," he said.  "Everyone did."
     "How?  How could people forget something like that?"
     "Some things we forget because they fade from memory.  Other things we make ourselves forget, because we're scared of them.  Or ashamed."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut

     Some things are too horrible to look in the face.  Sometimes you can't move on.  Sometimes all you can do is keep going.  What can you reasonably hope for that community, for those people, but that they are able to keep going until their lives once again have some meaning beyond being able to live through the pain?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vintage Weird

     Looking back over your life, you can turn up all sorts of things that contributed to your sense of weird.  As weirdness is often on my mind, I look back over the weird in my history and from time to time am delighted with what I rediscover there.  Two such things I dusted off and enjoyed recently were Doom Patrol and Nowhere Man.      
     Doom Patrol is a team of odd superheroes dating back to the Silver Age, but, as re-conceived by Grant Morrison, the oddness was ratcheted to a whole new level. If you're familiar with Morrison's recent work on Batman, or his superlative writing on JLA and All-Star Superman or the current run of Action Comics, you might be surprised that he made his name on hard-edged stories that flirted with the surreal, as in the Invisibles.  The first of collection Morrison's Doom Patrol stories, Climbing from the Wreckage, puts the heroes and their semi-nefarious boss Niles Caulder, up against the Scissormen, guardians of a world born from a parasitic book (and incidentally adapted from the psyche-scarring children's book Struwwelpeter).       
     Nowhere Man was a television series that lasted a single season, starring Bruce Greenwood as Thomas Veil, a photojournalist who returns home one night to find that his wife, his friends, his colleagues do not recognize him.  His entire life has, in fact, been erased by an organization that wants the film negative of a single image from him.  Like classically weird British sereies the Prisoner, Nowhere Man chronicled Veil's weekly run-ins with the organization and the plots they threw up against him.  Unlike most of those series that are cancelled after one season, Nowhere Man actually had provided a full-on explanation and a good sense of closure in its final episode.      
     Some vintage weirdness for those on the lookout.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

MacDonald and His Archer

     Ross MacDonald's mysteries, and his main protagonist Lew Archer, occupy a crucial place in literary history.  These stories are the essential link between the tough-guy private eye stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, which built the genre, and contemporary private eye fiction, with darker, more troubled and psychologically raw characters like James Lee Burke's DaveRobicheaux and Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (to name two of my favorites).  MacDonald's Archer was often plunged into such cases involving the misdoings of the wealthy and influential and the ways that families could destroy themselves.  Archer was definitely a tough guy like his antecedents, but he was also the first of the bunch to start down a path filled with looming shadows of psychic doom and devastation that deepened and darkened the genre overall.  The Doomsters and the Galton Case are good places to dive into Archer's adventures, as they represented the ratcheting up of psychological intensity in the series.  You might also catch PaulNewman's interpretation of the character, renamed Harper for some reason, in two movies based on Mr. MacDonald's books, namely Harper and the Drowning Pool.      
     Reading through these books has put me in the mind of writing a mystery and how an author might bring this noirish sense into a YA setting most effectively and believably.  One signpost in this direction is the movie Brick, in which a high school student looks into the death of his girlfriend, and it comes complete with a hard-boiled voice-over.  Somewhere down the line, I'm going to take a stroll down the path that Mr. MacDonald blazed so compellingly.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


     Steve Sheinkin, erstwhile creator of the wise and hilarious Rabbi Harvey series, has collaborated with Ilan Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, to produce El Iluminado, a graphic novel distinctive in both subject matter and aesthetic.  Chronicling Professor Stavans's (fictional) visit to Santa Fe New Mexico, where he gets caught up in a hunt for secret documents that are tied into the history of the Crypto-Jews.  The Crypto-Jews were a (not fictional) group of Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism in Spain circa 1492.  Many of these Jews went through the process of conversion but continued to practice their own religion and handed down their traditions to their posterity.  Many people of Latin American descent, it seems, may have a significant Jewish heritage and not even know it. 
     The story of the Crypto-Jews winds its way through the story of Stavans's quest, plagued with betrayals, hidden messages and religious controversy enough to rival the DaVinci Code.  Sheinkin's art puts a unique twist on the tale, with its charmingly exaggerated figures and evocative sense of place, and makes the history (as well as the mystery) breathe with a sense of warmth and life.  A fascinating, funny and often-thrilling story.    

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks 2012

     As Thanksgiving seems like the right time for traditions, with this second post on the subject, I hereby create a yearly tradition of listing a few things I'm thankful for.  As was the case last time, this is not meant to delve into the really big stuff -- family, friends, opportunities -- but rather to offer a few suggestions based on the art and entertainment that is enlightening or enthralling me around now.  Nevertheless, given the position many people in my corner of the world are in at the moment, it seems criminally frivolous not to mention how thankful I am to have a roof over my head, a hot meal on the way and a healthy family to share it with.  There are many ways to assist those who are not so fortunate.  If you are of a mind to help, here is one of many spots you can look at for ways to do so.
     In the meantime, here is a short list of things you might have a look at in between assisting with the debris clearance or donating to Red Cross and settling in for the Turkey.

Hard Times on DVD - Set in the 1930s but made in the 1970s, when they really knew how to shoot a fight scene, this is the story of an itinerant bare-knuckle boxer and his stopover in New Orleans.  Starring cinema's toughest tough guy, Charles Bronson (as well as a charming James Coburn) it is both tough-as-nails and yet also curiously melancholy and heartfelt.  And incidentally, the character of Mal from Those That Wake and What We Become, owes more than just a little bit to Bronson's character Chaney.  In fact, I always imagined Mal's father Max (brief though his part was), as more or less being that guy.

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt - A writer searching for the reason why an entire plane full of people have lost their memories makes it a great mystery.  A secret organization of spies hunting down their greatest agent, who has gone rogue, makes it a cracking espionage tale.  That the spies are all psychics, each with a unique skill, makes it a thrilling and exciting Sci-Fi yarn.  Kindt's graphic story-telling skills, breathless pacing, sharp ideas and highly distinctive and engagingly idiosyncratic art makes it a great comic book.  Not just great, in fact, but with loads of bonus materials in each monthly issue that will not appear in the collected edition, it may be the single best value for your comic book dollar out there.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - Four children must complete a series of difficult tests before embarking on a secret mission to a bizarre boarding school.  I haven't even started this yet, but it sure sounds good and, because it was highly recommended by my nine-year-old daughter, I can't wait to get going.

     Happy Thanksgiving.  Make sure you bring a good turkey joke to the table.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Title Quotes

    Those That Wake took its title from (and was preceded by) a quote from a poem by the English diplomat and poet Matthew Prior.   It is a quote intended -- out of context as it is -- to sound somewhat menacing.  In context (an excerpt of which appears to the left of this very post), it goes like this:

     When all seems lost and tomorrow feels like a long journey ahead
     It is hope that sparkles like a flickering flame inside of our hearts.
     For you have a destination far beyond where you stand today,
     And hope is but a dream of those that wake.

     Clearly, my ultimate intent by using this quote (and in writing the book itself), was to suggest a sense of hope.
     What We Become, the sequel to Those That Wake, takes its title from (and is preceded by) a quote from French critic and essayist Charles Du Bos.  Also intended to conjure an uneasy feeling, excerpted as it is, in its entirety it reads "the important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become."  Again, my ultimate goal (with the quote and the book) is to suggest the idea of improvement, of becoming something better than we are, though the evolution might require that we give up a certain part of ourselves.  Conveniently, it also conjures the notion of sacrifice, a theme that plays heavily into What We Become.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ode to an Unliklely Favorite

     With Skyfall about to catapult the world's greatest spy back into tuxedoed glory for the twenty-third (official) time, one casts a glance back at the fifty-year history of the franchise.  I will, to my dying breath, defend Connery as the quintessential Bond, the Bond from which all other greatness sprang.  He is simply magnetic, burning with charisma and a casual menace that defined the character, the franchise, the action genre and left an indelible stamp of the collective imagination forever.  But looking back at his Bond movies, it is fascinating to see how they are a tribute to a sort of epic story-telling that belonged to a different era.  Their primary presentation of spectacle, their main mode of thrilling audiences, was to show them exotic things: a laser beam! People fighting underwater!  The Bahamas!
     When you get right down to it, it is George Lazenby's single and often-reviled Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service that holds up the best from that era, if not the entire franchise.  The film proves to have an unusally strong script and great craft behind it with an engaging plot, highly enjoyable supporting performances (by Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg), an unusual emotionally-charged story for Bond, bruising fights (particularly the climactic hand-to-hand match with Blofeld on the toboggan) and tense suspense set pieces (Bond's escape from the cable car engine room is great).  It is, in many ways, the most modern of the films and simply the most exciting, from both an action standpoint and a character standpoint, though I grant that Casino Royale and -- from advanced word Skyfall -- could give it a run for its money on that count.  And, just for good measure, it has a fantastic score, including its wordless title song.
     For the next Bond film, we can discuss how Timothy Dalton's interpretation of Bond was far ahead of its time and blazed the trail that Daniel Craig is currently negotiating so successfully.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

     Much of New York is experiencing a power outage right now, including pretty much all of downtown Manhattan (where, incidentally, I live).  The reason: Hurricane Sandy, or “Franken-storm as the press has dramatically dubbed it in its inimitable style, caused an explosion at the 14th Street power station.  It happens that in my book, Those That Wake, there was a two-week power outage in downtown Manhattan brought on by an explosion at the 14th Street power station.  I’m not claiming any sort of prescience here – in my book it was the result of a terrorist attack . . . maybe – but I will say it’s rather surreal to be suffering the consequences of an event that, until three days ago, had been purely imaginary.
     I wonder if, years from now, when people read the book, they'll think I got the idea from when Hurricane Sandy blew through.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


     If you're writing a certain kind of story, a villain is a necessity, often as important to get right as the hero or heroine.  As a writer of those kinds of stories and a life-long reader of them, here is a list of villains arranged by their most basic, narrative elements.

     The Villain You Are Meant to Hate - this is villain as pure antagonist, villain at its most basic level, constructed of negative characteristics like greed, intolerance or hatred, meant to help you root for the hero even more.  Ian Fleming wrote good villains of this kind.  They are plentiful in children's literature, too, as with -- to pull a really good one out of the air -- Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl's Matilda.

     The Villain You Are Meant to Have Some Sympathy for - a villain who is clearly in the wrong, but whose motives a reader can understand and even identify with.  You still want them to lose, but the story takes on a grayer shade with this sort of villain.  Magneto from the X-Men comics and movies is such a villain.  He's done some pretty heinous things, but you understand that he is fighting desperately for the survival of his race.  You can damn his methods but not his motive.

     The Villain You Are Meant to Hate but Learn to Have Sympathy for - this is a villain of the first kind who becomes a villain of the second kind, ideally taking the reader somewhat by surprise and giving the story an extra dramatic punch.  Darth Vader is a prime example of this kind of villain, but only if you watch the Star Wars movies as God intended, with episodes IV, V and VI coming first.  If you watch them the way Mr. Lucas intends, with episodes I, II and III  coming first, then you have a villain who doesn't start out as a villain, but becomes one over the course of the story.  This has interesting narrative possibilities to be sure, but the villain himself will eventually fall into one of the above categories once he becomes the villain.  Consequently,  I have not given this type its own heading.

     For a while, I thought this was it, the basic three kinds of villains.  But I have slowly learned that there is another sort of villain, one who I believe is now my favorite kind.

     The Villain You Cannot Understand - I do not mean by this a villain whose motives are mysterious and you don't really see where he or she is coming from.  That sort of villain eventually develops into one of the above three once his or her motives become clear.  I mean by this heading a villain who, for some reason, is beyond standard human ken.  While a writer might assign them human motives  (survival, hunger, domination), their psyches, as it were, are always alien and unreachable.  Villains who are machines are the most basic example of this, like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Proteus IV in Demon Seed.  More alien still are, for example, H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods.  Perhaps most disturbing of this kind, for the fact that he is so familiar to us on the surface, is Hannibal Lecter.
     I find this last sort of villain the most purely terrifying and I tried to construct such an antagonist in Those That Wake, a villain who was, essentially, a metaphor given shape and form.  I am playing around with this idea for What We Become, trying to find something in the striations between these definitions.  My hope is that this villain, the Old Man, will be something terrifyingly beyond understanding, whose motives and psyche are still, somehow, disturbingly familiar. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Purpose of a Writer

     Albert Camus, a linchpin of the Existentialist movement and author of -- among other things -- The Stranger, said
"the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."
     Artists in general can show us ourselves, our culture, our society in revelatory ways.  Writers tend to work in a medium that requires more of the audience than other art forms; more time, more consideration, more reflection.  I certainly believe in the potential of the writer to do these things, even the obligation.  With such a vast expansion of media and forums for expression since Camus's era, I wonder though just what affect that has had on the purpose of the writer.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tease IV

     Another tease from What We Become, this one featuring a rather one-sided conversation between the antagonist of the story and a silent Mal.

     "Minds are tools and I use those tools . . . to shape the world.  But you already know how minds affect the world, don't you, boy?"
     Yes.  Mal knew that.
     A moment passed as the monster breathed.
     "There is a mind out in the city.  It is more powerful than any mind before.  I want it."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Just Right

     Reading reviews of your own work is a mixed bag, to say the least.  If you let yourself get carried away, even the good reviews can drive you crazy if you feel like something crucial was misinterpreted.  Sometimes, though, someone writes a review that makes you feel like she got exactly what you wanted her to out of the read.  I've learned not to pursue reviews of my stuff too closely, but this one came my way and I appreciated it so much, I couldn't help but link to it right here

Thursday, September 27, 2012

This Is How You Save a Library

     Keeping libraries opened in this day and age seems like it could be a full time job unto itself.  Unfortunately, most librarians already have a job, keeping those same libraries running and giving their communities the invaluable support they are uniquely equipped to offer.  So, in their spare time, how do they organize events to help fund and support their libraries, how do they rally volunteers, how do they bring community and media attention to their cause?
     Well, take it from some people who have done exactly those things and successfully saved libraries from having to close their doors permanently with swift thinking, sharp strategies and loud voices.  Grassroots Library Advocacy by Christian Zabriskie, Lauren Comito and Alliqae Geraci is the most valuable resource you could possibly have on this subject, especially if you're working with severely limited resources, which, at this point, is practically every library in the country.  Learn more right here.
     Then get out there and save a library or two.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Safety Last!

     The scene at the right, from Safety Last! starring Harold Lloyd, is one of the most famous in movie history.  While you might be quite familiar with it, perhaps you don't know that the entire last twenty minutes of the movie is just as astonishing.  Mr. Lloyd, one of silent cinema's three widely acknowledged geniuses (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton being the other two) climbs a twelve story building from ground to roof, the famous moment with the clock just a brief interlude in a much larger spectacle.
     Having just seen the movie in a theater recently, I was amazed by Lloyd's ability to craft a sequence that was simultaneously hilarious and thrilling, an art that contemporary movies seem to have abandoned.  I have never been to a movie in which the audience was so audibly caught up in the suspense, gasping and groaning and shrieking at each development.  Heightening the thrills was the fact that, not only a person actually making that climb (no CGI back then), but that it was Harold Lloyd doing it.  Both the climber and the street many floors below are clearly visible in nearly every shot, many of them close ups on Lloyd's bespectacled face.  This is basically the equivalent of watching George Clooney or Meryl Streep or Robert Downey, Jr. actually scaling the side of a building.
     Though Lloyd has had homages aplenty (Scorcese's recent Hugo, for instance, or practically every movie Jackie Chan ever made), it's tempting to say that they don't make 'em like they used to.  As I dwell on it, though, I'm not sure they ever really made them quite like that.  Safety Last! is one of a kind.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How Sweet It Isn't

     Perhaps it is fairly common knowledge that obesity, diabetes and heart disease are on the rise in this country.  Perhaps it is also common knowledge that one of the leading causes of this is sugar consumption.  What I didn't know until recently is that about 80% of commercially-produced foods contain sugar or its latter-day replacement high fructose corn syrup.  We love sweet stuff and the sweeter stuff is, the more we buy and eat it.  So why do we love sweet stuff so much?
     As with just about everything else to do with our physical proclivities, the love of sugar is in our genes.  We are encoded to love sugar because there is no (and has never been) an acutely poisonous food on the planet that is sweet.  Essentially, we are evolved to feel that when a food is sweet, it's safe to eat.  This, of course, comes from millenia past, when you couldn't possibly eat enough sugar to make you overweight (since it was only really available in fruit).
     So what's happened here is that corporations that produce food have tumbled to this genetic fact and now make things sweeter because they know we'll want more of them.  They are using our instinct for safety against us, to feed us something that is increasingly dangerous.
     You can learn a great deal more from Robert Lustig, an expert on this subject, who gives a fascinating interview about it here.  Learn more about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup and other corn-derived products in a highly engaging graphic presentation available here and created by  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Dog Has His Day

     The most popular comic in Italy appears to be a the story of "nightmare investigator" Dylan Dog created by Tiziano Sclavi.  Each graphic novel-length issue tells a complete tale of one of Dylan Dog's investigations into all manner of horrific things, both supernatural and not (many stories cleave more to the psychological thriller end of the spectrum).  What makes these stories such stand-outs is their ability to add humor into the mix without diluting the horror or the surprising emotional punch most of the tales pack.  Their most distinctly non-American trait is their tendency to find horror in unexpected, often surreal, places, or to find a new twist on classic horror tropes.  Thus far, the only stories translated into English are to be found in Dark Horse's The Dylan Dog Case Files.  Therein,  an eerie tone and stark terror are both to be found among a deaf and mute who has had the lower half of his body amputated, a man who has been so universally ignored that he turns invisible, a woman awaiting the return of the "monster" who killed her entire family years earlier, a woman who can't tell whether or not she's dreaming, Dylan Dog himself getting locked out of his apartment for an entire night, and the search for a deadly rural landscape secretly hidden in the middle of urban London.
     A recent movie based on the character was reviled by critics, but the comics themselves are unique and thrilling.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Is the Role of the Librarian in the City?

     Urban Librarians Unite is holding an essay-writing contest open to all MLS and MLIS students enrolled in New York City.  They are looking for the best 1000-1200 word essay answering the question "what is the role of the librarian in the city?"  The prize is $200.00 for books and supplies.
     Full information can be found here.
     Good luck!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tease III

     Another tease from What We Become, this time a brief exchange between Laura and a new character.

     "The stronger ones have a responsibility, Aaron, to help the weaker ones."  She was certain this would appeal to his sense of superiority.
     "Not to help them," he said.  "To lead them."

Thursday, August 16, 2012


     Among other things, Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, said "whatever you are, be a good one."
     Maybe it's not what you do that makes you great so much as how you do it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Visiting Simmons's House

     Josh Simmons is an indie comics creator whose latest is called The Furry Trap.  It is a collection of short comic stories that experiment with the notion of horror.  Some of the tales are weird and skewed versions of familiar narrative ideas, others offer more subtle twists on horror standards.  They are not all dead-center horror, but they are, across the board, incredibly disturbing, thanks in great part to some truly hideous sexual violence (perpetrated against men, women, mutants and evil sorcerers).  While it is not done frivolously and has a very intentional narrative effect, it may still be more than most can comfortably take.  The best is the final story, Demonwood, which is the nost starkly terrifying of the bunch, but leaves the graphic depictions off-panel.
     Less extreme but weirder still is Jessica Farm, the story of a young woman waking up on Christmas morning, who must navigate the various semi-surreal joys and monstrosities that occupy her house.  Told in a very David Lynchian vein, this is merely the first volume of a grand decades-spanning experiment on Simmons' part.
     His masterpiece, however, is a work called House.  Accessible without sacrificing sublime strangeness or creepy uneasiness, it is a tale not so much of a haunted house but of an evil house.  Told silently and in black and white, Simmons' use of panel size, narrative build up and deployment of inky darkness is nothing less than masterful.  Even as the visuals make daring and unique use of the format, Simmons' grip on horror tropes and his ability to reforge them makes for a scary story both traditional and surprising.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The City Inside

     In Rome I have seen the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, extraordinary fountains, high-end clothing stores, statues, churches, trattorias, osterias, gelaterias and pasticcerias . . . but not a single grocery store. There is no hint here of a Rome where people actually live and work, only of a city where tourists are catered to. It is as though I am experiencing a city inside a larger city, almost a set piece that has been constructed for the use of me and millions of others like me. Even our map (given to us at our hotel) appears to end at the borders of the city we are supposed to be a part of, trailing off at the edges into the real city which will forever remain invisible to us.
     The other great cities of the world -- New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong among them -- integrate their tourist industries with their "true" selves and allow you to form a connection with the urban culture and community. Rome seems to want to keep me at arm's length. I have a better sense of how Ancient Romans lived than how contemporary Romans do.
     But, my God, they make good gelato.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Graphic Novels in Your School Library Review

     About Graphic Novels in Your School Library, VOYA said "the author has imparted a college course of material between two covers in an easily understood presentation . . . successfully makes a case for the use of graphic novels in teaching . . . This resource is a terrific addition for school and public libraries."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eisner Winners 2012

     My tenure as an  Eisner judge officially came to an end last Friday, June 13th, when the awards themselves were handed out in San Diego.  Have a look at the Eisner winners for 2012, and don't forget to give some attention to all the well-deserved nominations, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Before the Boyscout

     The Superman who first appeared in June, 1938 was a good guy of a very different sort than the smiling boyscout that his name conjures these days.  He was a mighty engine of social justice who took on lynch mobs, wife beaters and corrupt industrialists, and he was none too gentle about it either, as evidenced in the panel to the right.
     In the recently relaunched Action Comics, writer Grant Morrison, ably abetted by the vigorous and muscular art of Rags Morales, has truly brought the character back to his roots.  In a world where a property is supposed to be comfortably familiar across various media, and with a new Superman movie due out next summer, it's something of a kick in the pants to see a Superman who, in genuinely crusading once again for the underprivileged and finding once again a sense of social indignation, proves daringly progressive.  It is, dare it be said, a little bit subversive, and serves as a reminder that when the superhero was born, his first archenemy was The Man.  And even if you don't care for a touch of the edgy in your superheroes, it's still a thrilling read.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Champion

     Boxer Jack Dempsey,  one-time World Heavyweight Champion, once said "a champion is someone who gets up, even when he can't."
     I just thought that was worth knowing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ivan C. Karp
June 4th, 1926 - June 28th, 2012

"I'd rather starve than miss a meal."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Idea of Langoliers

     You hear often enough about where ideas come from, but where exactly do they go?  Or, more accurately, where does your memory of where they came from go?  I happened upon The Langoliers the other day, a TV movie based on Stephen King's novella from Four Past Midnight.  I hadn't seen it since its original airing in 1995, but watching it again, a gust of memory blasted out of a dusty, cobwebbed corner of my mind like someone had just opened a window in the attic.
     Much of The Langoliers is concerned with a group of people trapped in a familiar place (in this case an airport) that is somehow not quite right.  The signs of what is wrong (things have no taste, there is no smell, flame won't light things on fire) and what eventually proves to be different about the place had a fairly huge impact on me, I realize as I look back.  I never even read the original story, but the ideas in the filmed version stuck with me enough that I built a fairly pivotal segment of Those That Wake from similar building blocks.  That same idea (the Forgotten Places, as I call them in my book) has another crucial part in What We Become.  Incidentally, the Langoliers themselves are a momentously sinister and ghastly monster creation, though rendered in early and somewhat rickety CGI, as well as the most maniacal and lunatic performance of Bronson Pinchot's career (which makes for an odd selling point, I grant you).
     It's no big news that we form new ideas from ideas we experience.  I was just struck in this case how those ideas become a current in the giant ebb and flow of our personal rivers and, if we're lucky enough to stumble upon it again, how surprising it can be to rediscover the source.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

At the Bat

     Whether you're a baseball fan or not, it is hard to deny the power of Ernest L. Thayer's Casey at the Bat for capturing a sense of the game's potential for both heroism and tragedy.  An unusual way to experience this grand poem is in picture book form, specifically in Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, illustrated by Christopher Bing.
     Bing's illustrations evoke not only the game itself, but the entire time period, as his images are collaged with newspaper clippings and other assorted materials that round out the sense of time and place (all of which are, in fact, illustrated by Bing, mind you).  A standout example of how literature can be adapted and what images can do for words.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

24-Hour Read-In

     On Saturday, June 9th at 4:00 PM running through to Sunday, June 10th at 4:00 PM at Brooklyn Public Library Grand Army Plaza, there will be a twenty-four hour read in to benefit the Brooklyn Public Library system, which is facing another array of horrific budget cuts.  Among the many, many worthwhile readers and notable material, at 10:00 AM on Sunday, there will be a reading/performance of Dr. Seuss's immortal Green Eggs and Ham, featuring a professional actress and me.  I hope to hold up my end, but I can certainly guarantee the quality of my fellow reader and, of course, the unassailable material.   And that's to say nothing of the cause itself.  If you are in the area, please stop by, if not for Green Eggs and Ham, then whenever is convenient.  It runs for a whole twenty-four hours, after all.  
     For more information about the event, coordinated by Urban Librarian's Unite, have a look at the Save NYC Libraries website.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


     It is true that Philip K. Dick was well known, perhaps even had the market cornered on the world-isn't-what-it-appears-to-be story in books like Time Out of Joint (to name just one among many). However, another science fiction legend, Robert Heinlein, penned a story that employs this same existential paranoia to great effect. Though mainly known for his trenchant social commentary (as in Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers), his short story They borrows a page from the philosopher Descartes (he of the seminal "I think therefore I am") and manages to pick apart the details of everyday life - details so common we all tend to dismiss them without thought - and tie them into a sinister conspiracy on such a grand scale, Mr. Dick would have been proud. Along with Mr. Heinlein's own the Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, They was a watershed moment in sci-fi and horror literature of the day, changing the course of the genre forever. All in just ten pages.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What We Become

     What We Become, the sequel to Those That Wake, will be published February, 2013.  I have seen the lovely advanced reader copy myself and reviews should begin hitting before too long.  The official synopsis goes like this:

     Two years ago, teenagers Mal and Laura destroyed a corporate empire intent on controlling human thinking through technology. For a while, life was good. But now a new force has arisen: the Old Man. He’s hungry for power and he knows who holds the key to getting it: Mal. Mal needs his beloved Laura’s help to defeat the Old Man, but is he willing to risk her life in another battle to save humanity? What We Become combines mind-bending thrills with the hot immediacy of corporate greed. It will leave readers wondering who is really in control…

     It's available for pre-order here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ode to a Poignant Avenger

     There's not too much left to be said about the Avengers that the two hundred and fifty reviews logged at Rotten Tomatoes haven't covered . . . except for this one thing.  We are not a culture that really embraces the staunch, reliable, stoic hero anymore.  Irony, sentimentality, deep and obvious flaws tend to be the norm for our heroes these days.  Consequently, Captain America does not really come off as the brightest or flashiest hero in the crowd Joss Whedon has assembled.  Chris Evans, who plays the Captain, gives a reigned-in but quite compelling performance in the part (even as he did in his own movie), but I wanted to call attention to one thing in particular.
     There is a scene toward the beginning of the film, when Captain America has just been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. and is riding on a jet with Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson.  The agent mentions that the Captain's suit has been redesigned since World War II and the hero evinces surprise.  "Aren't the stars and stripes a bit . . . old-fashioned?" he asks.
     It's a single line-reading in a very, very big movie, but it captures such a sense of longing in the character, defines him in such a powerful way and brings a heart to the center of the action that is indispensable.  Kudos, of course, to Mr. Penn's and Mr. Whedon's script, but all the more so to Mr. Evans; capturing some poignancy in the midst of such a large-scale spectacle is not very easy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Met Gets Graphic

     I will be speaking on the subject of comic books and graphic novels in education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, June 16th, from 10:30 AM to 12:30 AM. The event is free with admission but registration is required. If you're interested and are in the area, please come by. For more information, and to register, have a look right here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tease II

     The last time I teased an excerpt from What We Become (the sequel to Those That Wake), due out February 2013, it was on the spare side.  I'm going with something slightly longer this time.  The "he" in the passage below refers to Mal.  The "she" refers to . . . someone else.

           “I’m going to take you somewhere safe,” he said.
            “And then what?”
            “I’m going to get what they want.”
            She looked down.  Partially visible, her fragile features held no doubt.
            “But you’re not going to give it to them, are you?” she said.
            The darkness pressed in on them, held back only by the meager glow of the tiny lamp.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Weird That Got Away

     I wrote a little while ago about how serving on the Eisner committee opened my eyes up to some of the sublime weirdness that independent comic world had to offer.  I must say that I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the deeply disturbing material (in the best way possible) that digital comics (a.k.a. webcomics) have to offer.  Some of that made it onto the nominee list (I'm thinking of Outfoxed and Sarah and the Seed here), but there are always a few that slip through the narrow spaces between votes.  So let me take this chance to recommend two others that particularly stood out:  The Abaddon (involved and cerebral, part two just got started) and Margot's Room (already complete, very dark; pay close attention to the opening words to figure out how to navigate through the comic).
     It's always a pleasure to see some really effective weird out there, especially in new formats.  As Those That Wake will attest, I'm a big fan of weird.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Challenge of the Cabin (in the Woods)

     Looking forward to the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's Cabin in the Woods with great anticipation, I came by this early review.  It seemed somewhat hyperbolic at the time, as Ms Johanson states, up in the first paragraph, "I don’t know how anyone can possibly make a horror movie again."  Having now seen the film myself, I am in fact not sure that Ms. Johnason has gone far enough.
     I will not labor the issue of the film's metatextual commentary or the cleverness and engagement with which the story is told (an absolute necessity, I think, given its subtext; I mean, just how far can you go without alienating your audience?).  I will simply say this: the last fifteen minutes of the film encapsulates the most staggering, chutzpah-driven challenge conceivable to horror-movie makers, movie-makers in general, story-tellers of any variety and American culture itself.  "We have taken away all your tools, all your devices, all the things you have come to rely on,"  the film -- and its makers -- say, "now go do something new.  To not do so would be creatively bankrupt and irresponsible."
     I'm very curious to see the response of other filmmakers and storytellers (I'm mulling over my own even now).  No doubt, many will ignore it and go on with business as usual.  A challenge of this scope is, to say the least, intimidating.  But those who choose to pick up the dialog Whedon and Godard have set in motion, what will they do? What is the next step? At this moment, I'm not even sure I can fathom it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Comics, Libraries and Education Event

     I will be speaking on several panels to discuss topics such as trends in graphic novels for children and teens, comics in classrooms and evaluating comics for Comics, Libraries and Education: Literacy Without Limits.  The event is taking place at the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County in Rochester, New York on Friday, April 27th from 8:00 am to 4:40 pm.  It includes a number of other excellent presenters and topics, all of which you can learn about here.
     If you're anywhere in the area, please come have a look.  If you already believe in sequential art's potential in the area of education, you'll find a lot of new ideas.  If you're dubious of it, maybe we can convince you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Eisner Nominations

     After an exultant (and bleary-eyed) four days locked in a conference room in San Diego with the five other judges and our esteemed Eisner Award administrator Jackie Estrada, nominations for excellence in comic books and graphic novels in twenty-seven categories have been officially announced here.
     This was a unique and meaningful opportunity, a chance to offer a broad statement on the form itself and to become a small footnote in its grand history.    Among my own favorite titles on the list:

The new Daredevil series by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin
"Harvest of Fear" from Treehouse of Horror #17 By Jim Woodring
Jim Henson's Tale of Sand by Ramon K. Perez (not what you'd expect)
Optic Nerve #12 by Adrian Tomine
Richard Stark's Parker: the Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke

     I'm confident you will find something on the list that you will love.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Graphic Novels in Your School Library Review

      I'm telling you, it's hard to get semi-obscure reference books for a semi-rarefied audience reviewed in this day and age.  It's an extra-sized delight, in that case, when one does pop up, and in Booklist no less, which says "most school libraries will benefit from this accessible and practical manual.  Recommended."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leave It to the Bard

     A comment by a graduate student in the sequential art class I teach at Pratt, lead me to an idea that came from Marc DiPaolo in his book War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film.  He quotes William Shakespeare (from Twelfth Night) as saying "some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."  He goes on to apply this, respectively, to the characters of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
     This is, of course, an extremely astute comparison that places these characters on a great archetypal spectrum of heroism and points up what powerful and compelling icons superheroes can be.  Ultimately, though, it seems to highlight just how far ahead of everything William Shakespeare actually was. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sound of Independents

     Among the many things serving on the Eisner committee has afforded me, the opportunity to read comics I don't usually find my way to has proven the most valuable thus far.  I was never a huge reader of independent comics -- I'd read my share and I know the standards, but like many mainstream superhero fans (I assume), I just didn't tend to find my way back to them very often.  Well, having read a slew of them over the last few weeks, I was bowled over by the talent, the narrative gambles, the unique aesthetic and the distinctive tones lurking between those covers.
     While superhero comics tend to concentrate on the extreme, exaggerating situations and personalities to create their drama and energy, indie comics create drama by finding the extraordinary within the mundane, as in Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve 12, in which a gardener pursues his dream of creating "hortisculpture" at a huge social price.  Sometimes the indies use the extraordinary to highlight the drama of everyday emotions and situations, like in Julia Gforer's Too Dark to See, in which a succubus (or . . . something) sows the seeds of destruction in a normal relationship, or in Michael DeForge's Lose #3, in which the trials of a forlorn and recently divorced father is played out against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by dogs.
     Sometimes it's hard to hear the quiet sound of a heartfelt conversation over all the superheroes punching each other and the zombies chomping on people's brains, but it turns out it might be worth listening to.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


     What We Become, the sequel to Those That Wake, is due out in February of 2013.  That's just under a year, and yet the book is by and large ready.  The editing is finished, the proof reading done, the flap copy approved.  The paperback of Those That Wake (due out imminently) will mention the sequel's forthcoming release, but a year's a long time.  Over the course of the year, I'm going to try to throw out a tease here and there.
     Here's a line, completely out of context.  I can't even disclose who's saying it for fear of giving too much away.  But that's the idea of a tease, after all.

"Tell me, Laura, what is your life like now?"


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Necessary Five

     Here is a list of the five graphic novels every collection of reading material ought to include, the five graphic novels that are most worthy of the term graphic literature.  For what it's worth, they're not actually my five favorite graphic novels, but the ones that most epitomize and exemplify the art form.  In democratic alphabetical order (by title), they are:

1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
2. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
4. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
5. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ode to a Former Starship Captain

     William Shatner is currently performing his one man show Shatner's World: We Just Live In It on Broadway.  It's always a risky prospect going to see or meet someone you have deep admiration for, but I went ahead and did it (with the moral support of some fellow admirers) and I'm pleased to say that it was quite charming overall.  He went over his history as a performer, told some anecdotes, told some (often funny) jokes, showed some well-chosen clips and did not overplay the "Shatner persona."
       In the end, what I found most gratifying about the evening was the chance to stand up and applaud.  I was, of course, one person in a huge room of standing, applauding people.  Mr. Shatner didn't see me as anything more than a face in a massive crowd.  However, on a personal level, it was shockingly affecting to be able to say thank you in this way.  I mean, this is a guy who had a profound effect on my life, a guy who (as Captain Kirk) helped me define what it actually meant to be a man, what it meant to stand up for for what's right and stand up to what's wrong.
      How often do you get the opportunity to actually thank your childhood hero?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2012

     ALA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee met in Dallas and compiled a strong list of graphic novels for use in libraries (and for reading enjoyment, too, of course).  We also put together a top ten list from the fifty-six titles.
     This was my last round on the committee, sorry to say, as they were three years very well spent.  Now, on to the Eisners.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

If Language Could Kill

     Recently released is The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus, about a world in which the language of children -- the simple act of their speaking -- begins to kill their parents.  The idea of language having a deadly physical affect on people is a great one, ripe with all sorts of possibility.  Mr. Marcus tells his own compelling story about it, but here are three other books with a similar concept at their hearts.

Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess - a virus transmitted through conversation turns the infected into rampaging killers.  There was also a movie based on this one.

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk - a children's lullaby, when recited, can channel a targeted psychic deathblow.  

The Man Who Collected Machen by Mark Samuels -  a book of weird tales featuring several stories of toxic language, including one called "THYXXOLQU," in which gibberish begins to take over all written words.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Graphic Novels in Your School Library Review

     It is eminently understandable that people would be quicker (and generally more enthusiastic) to review a novel like Those That Wake than to review a relatively small trade publication like Graphic Novels in Your School Library.  However, the first one has come in from the Midwest Book Review and it reads, in part "Graphic Novels in Your School Library is an excellent and practical start to helping even those who have no idea [where] to begin with these works."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Nearness of History

     In Dallas for the American Library Association conference, I took the opportunity to walk through Dealey Plaza and have a look at the Book Depository.  I happened to be there early on a Sunday morning and the area was all but empty.  Perhaps it might have seemed different with crowds of people moving through it or cars passing back and forth, but I was struck by how close everything was.  Standing on the corner that President Kennedy's car was heading toward when the shots were fired, I could see right into the sixth floor window, and the grassy knoll was less than a baseball toss away. 
     Standing there, it felt impossible that a person could have missed the sight of a rifle muzzle coming out of the window or a puff of gunsmoke over the knoll or have not been able to differentiate the sound of gunshots coming from two separate locations.  Of course, I was not there.  There were no people around me.  My eyes were not locked on a presidential motorcade.  But I was left with the distinct impression that if a person thought there was someone else behind the grassy knoll, it would have been impossible to be mistaken about it.
     I'm not going to go so far as to say it was haunted, but standing there alone, I would be lying if I didn't say how heavily the history seemed to rest in that place.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dystopia Death Match

     Having plunged into dystopian waters with a book, a sequel and a short story (thus far), I felt like it was incumbent upon me to look back at the august history of the subgenre.  I don't think you could debate that the two books that defined it and are still its two primary exemplars are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I'll admit a preference for Mr. Orwell's work as I lean toward darker narratives and it's black as they come.  Mr. Huxley's novel is no less significant but is very much a social satire, and not quite as much a stark nightmare.  In terms of literary notoriety it seems as though the scales may tip ever so slightly in favor of 1984; it is Mr. Orwell who has an adjective that actually means dystopian named for him, after all.  However, they both clearly laid the groundwork for what every dystopian writer (which sometimes feels like every writer) is doing today.
     A more salient analysis of what lies at the heart of each of these works -- and what specifically terrified each of these authors -- could not be found than the following statement by one of Media Ecology's pioneers Neil Postman.  To whit:

    -- What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.' In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. --

      Mr. Postman clearly came down on the side of Huxley.  Essentially, that's what Media Ecology is all about.  Looking at the world that Orwell and Huxley saw as the future (in other words, right now), which way did we end up going?