Saturday, January 13, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 065: Dead as a Doornail”

It’s been a while since I reviewed a Sookie book, and I was feeling like reading something fun. So here we go with Dead as a Doornail… 

Charlaine Harris – Dead as a Doornail (2005/2006)

This is the 5th book in Charlaine Harris’s series about psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, and it’s a pretty entertaining addition to Sookie’s life and times. The plot involves a sniper on the loose who is picking off the “two natured” citizens of Sookie’s neighborhood (that’s werewolves and shape shifters, for you non-supernaturalist folks), and when the bullets start to hit close to home, Sookie decides that she needs to use her telepathic abilities to try to find out who’s gunning down her friends.

This novel is a fast and frenetic mix of mystery, supernatural fantasy, horror, and romance. At times, it seems like Sookie is fighting off as many attempts on her life as she is fending off potential suitors, who number somewhere between a half dozen and a full dozen at this point. She has vampires, werewolves, were-panthers, shape shifters, and a few other critters trying to win her over in these pages, and there’s lots of smooching going on, but nothing too heavy. (In previous books, Sookie’s antics were a little more Hard-R.)

In addition to the sniper plotline and the various romance angles, there is also a “friend-in-a-dangerous-relationship” storyline, a revenge plot, AND a political feud that ends with a life or death battle to see who’s going to be the new leader of the powerful, local werewolf clan, all of which inevitable draw Sookie into them. It’s a busy, fast-paced book, but a serious page turner. Definitely one of the more exciting episodes!

On the negative side, perhaps, I would NOT recommend this book as an entry point to the Sookie Stackhouse series. This is the fifth book, and Harris frequently refers back to previous storylines and plot-points, often with little more than a cursory note explaining the reference. I would imagine that anyone who jumped right into Sookie’s story with this novel would feel pretty lost. There are tons of characters, hundreds of pages of backstory, and weird, emotional moments that probably wouldn’t make any sense without having read the previous books. If you’re thinking about reading this series, I’d start with the first book. They novels are all pretty quick reads (with the slight exception of book three, Club Dead, which I found so brutal that it’s not quite as fun as the rest and was a bit harder to get through for me. I’m not a big fan of torture scenes.)

As always, Harris’s writing is straightforward and clear. The characters are well defined and entertaining, and the mystery elements are nicely placed in the narrative (for those trying to decide “who dunnit.”) For the more sensitive souls, however, there is some very adult language, a bit of gore and violence, a yucky ritual sex scene, and enough romantic entanglements to choke a sperm whale. (I admit that I’m not a huge romance fan, but there’s enough mystery to keep me engaged.) In addition, if you’re looking for realism, this series ain’t it. The Sookie books are supernatural-fantasy-romance structed around a mystery core, and the books are unapologetic about it. You don’t get Milan Kundera or Faulkner in a Sookie book, but you do get lots of monsters, some entertaining mystery, and (for me) a sense of the familiar, like I’m going home to visit some old friends (who are either dead or really hairy when the moon is full---or fairies…) And compared to the rest of the books in this series, I give Dead as a Doornail a solid thumbs up!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 064: Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction”

Few ideologies or movements have influenced me as much as Dada, and as such, I try to read everything I can about those merry pranksters, so when I spotted this little book, I was excited. Being a former scholarly-type, I’m partial to theory, and with the magic word, “Oxford,” on the cover, my expectations for what I was going to be inside were incredibly high. Does the interior live up to the cover hype? Let’s find out…

David Hopkins – Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction (2004)

First, a bit of clarification. I’ve read this book three times, and I would NOT recommend this text as an introduction to Dada or Surrealism. What Hopkins has written is an academic examination of the two art movements, showing the similarities and, more importantly, how they were different. Hopkins discusses, very briefly, the histories of the two movements, looks at a few of the key personalities in the various groups, examines the political inclinations of the members, and explores some the current art tendencies that he sees as outgrowths of the Dada and/or Surrealist spirit. Considering these two movements happened in the nineteen-teens through the nineteen-forties, the fact that they have ANY impact today speaks to how important and influential they were.

What Hopkins does well is show the contrasting dispositions behind the various Dada groups and the Parisian Surrealists, who were essentially under the control of the autocratic Andre Breton. Dada, as Hopkins points out, formed as a reaction to the horrors of WWI, initially in Switzerland, and was an anarchistic, anti-bourgeoise explosion of activity. Cabaret performances, abstract poetry, self-published journals, collages, textiles, sculpture, and manifestos were the primary artistic works created by the group, who chose to make statements meant to point out how the corruption in supposedly “civilized” societies could lead to the most awful atrocities imaginable. The excitement and energy of the initial group spread around the world and various other pockets of spontaneous creativity popped up under the Dada mantel.

Again, as Hopkins notes, the Paris chapter of Dada, which eventually morphed into Surrealism, was less about anarchic social critique and more about exploring the subconscious. And the products of those explorations usually took the form of the same socially acceptable cultural artifacts that the Dada artists strove to overthrow, such as oil painting and novels. The Surrealists did produce some intriguing journals and performances, but eventually Breton, who ruled the group with an iron fist and would expel those who disagreed with his proclamations, would lead the group into joining the Communist movement.

Unfortunately for most people, Hopkins is a scholar with a deep knowledge of 20th Century art, and he drops names in this text that I’m guessing most people won’t recognize. Clement Greenberg, John Berger, COBRA, the Situationists, the Lettrists, Guy Debord, and so on, these probably aren’t names that everyone is going to be familiar with (which is too bad), and he doesn’t take much time to discuss any of them, so they may come across as empty references. In addition, there really isn’t much reproduced Dada or Surrealist art or writing in this book. In fact, I’d guess that about a third of the artwork that Hopkins does include comes from more modern artists who came AFTER these movements or from artists who were only peripherally connected at the time. (For a MASSIVE collection of reproduced Dada artifacts, I recommend Leah Dickerman’s fantastic 2005 catalogue, DADA – Zurich Berlin Hannover Cologne New York Paris. Although it’s not cheap, it’s an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary work.)

So again, this book is quite good, if what you are looking for is an erudite exploration of the political and cultural motivations behind two of the most interesting art movements of the last century. HOWEVER, I would NOT recommend this book for someone just getting interested in Dada or Surrealism. For a great introduction (to Dada, anyway), try Marc Dachy’s Dada: The Revolt of Art. If you want about as close to a first-hand account as you can get, I’d recommend (highly---and I’m sure I’ll review it soon) Hans Richter’s Dada: Art and Anti-Art. I’ve already mentioned Dickerman’s book, which runs upwards of $50, but is COMPLETELY worth it for the beautiful, full color images. Dada is one of my favorite things in the world, so I definitely get excited by the topic. If, once you’ve dipped into the Dada pool for a bit, you decide that you want to go DEEPER, then grab Hopkins’ book and start studying!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 063: Creepy Volume One”

Shawna Gore (ed.) and numerous others – Creepy Volume One (2008)

To do this collection any justice, we have to go back in time to the 1940s and 50s, when a little company called Entertaining Comics published some groundbreaking horror and science fiction titles. These books had clever, tongue-in-cheek writing, gratuitous violence, and brilliant artwork by some of the best artists to ever work in the field. The comics were intended for a sophisticated, adult audience (according to Al Feldstein, one of the super-stars of the EC stable, as he said in the documentary, Comic Book Confidential,) but most of America felt that comics were just for kids. By the mid-1950s, there were complaints that these comics were corrupting children, and then there were congressional hearings, and before the government could come down on comics and make them illegal, a self-censoring agency was created to regulate what could and COULDN’T be included in a comic book. Books that weren’t submitted to the Comic Code Authority, and didn’t have their stamp of approval, couldn’t get distributed, and according to William Gaines, almost every word that he used in the titles of his comics was BANNED. EC shifted gears, dropped their comics, and moved into producing a humor magazine call MAD. (Maybe you’ve heard of it.)

The overall effect of the Comics Code Authority was that all of the FUN was sucked out of comics---for at least the next ten years.

By the mid-1960s, however, Warren Publishing decided to try to resurrect horror comics, although they decided to publish them in black and white format and as magazines, in order to get around the Comics Code Authority, which wasn’t concerned with magazines. Warren enlisted a number of classic EC artists, like Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, George Evans…, as well as some great non-EC talent, such as Gray Morrow and Angelo Torres, and went about recreating that fantastic, tongue-in-cheek horror mood of books like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, with Creepy and Eerie.

So what’s in THIS collection? Dark Horse Comics, in putting Creepy Volume One together, reprinted the first five issues of Creepy magazine. They also included an interesting introduction by Jon B. Cooke (which covers a lot of what I mentioned above, but in much greater detail), some fascinating LETTERS pages, in which fans and detractors express their thoughts on the various issues, and even a bunch of vintage advertisements, which are pretty cool in their own right!

The stories in this collection are very fun. They aren’t particularly SCARY, but more humorous, with twist endings and snarky puns. The stories might be considered a bit cheesy by today’s standards, considering they’re primarily based on vampires and werewolves and witches and the like, but they are ALSO pretty funny. Most of the stories are introduced by a wise-cracking ghoul named Uncle Creepy (who is clearly modeled on the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt.) In one of the later stories in this collection, you actually get an “origin” story for Uncle Creepy, which I thought was pretty clever---if a bit silly.

The black and white artwork throughout this collection is exceptional, with brilliant artists, like Frazetta, Morror, Torres, Crandall, and Jack Davis (of course), creating atmospheric settings and brilliantly conceived creatures. All in all, the stories and art work well together, and produce the perfect mood, while retaining that classic, gothic feel where it counts. And all of the covers, which are also reprinted in this collection, are wonderful. (My favorite is the cover of the first issue by Jack Davis. He was good!)

If you are familiar with EC’s horror line, the Creepy stories may seem a bit tame by comparison, as they tend not to be as gruesome, but I think the black and white art actually lends something to the telling of gothic fair, so I’m pleased with that difference. The stories are also pretty funny, at times, although some might find the inevitable twist endings to be unsatisfying. Most of the stories are short, and there are few recurring characters (besides Uncle Creepy), but that’s okay with me. One thing this book has going for it, though, is the SIZE. The first issue of Creepy was a full 68 pages, and even though the book would eventually slim down to 48 pages, that’s still a lot of stories, when your tales are only about 8 pages each! (I think it’s about 240 pages, altogether.)

So if you enjoy good, “creepy” comic stories, with exceptional artwork and a sly, humorous bent to the tales, then Creepy will be the book for you. Unfortunately, the Dark Horse hardcover edition has gone up in price quite a bit, but the digital download is still reasonable. Again, the book isn’t particularly gory or explicit, though there is a bit of a body count. Personally, I enjoy the tone, but I’m also a fan cheesy old horror in general, things like the Universal films, like The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, and even the Abbott and Costello parodies! It’s just good, fun stuff, with lots of monsters in it! (What else does anyone really need???)

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

“Read a Damn Book – 062: Giant-Size X-Men (40th Anniversary Edition)”

Back in 1984, I bought my first X-Men comic for 60 cents from Olympic Drug in Longview, WA. (Uncanny X-Men #187---I don’t have the book anymore, but found an image of it online after a quick search.) The comic had a weird monster on the cover, a “Dire Wraith,” which I learned was one of an entire race of malevolent, outer space, shape shifting creatures who were attacking some guy named Forge at his high-tech home, and a cool lady with a mohawk was trying to fend the monsters off. I also remember that Rom, the Space Knight, was somehow, vaguely, involved. (Rom was a toy that was popular back in the early 80s.) I was fascinated by the comic, and I scoured the city (hitting places like Fred Meyer, Furness Drugstore, and Ron’s Emporium) looking for more adventures from the X-team. That one comic was the start of a decade long obsession with X-Men, that really only stopped when I had to choose between buying comics and paying for diapers.

Mark D. Beazley (ed.) and various others – Giant-Size X-Men (40th Anniversary Edition) (2015)

What Beazley did with this book is create a tribute to the “NEW” X-Men, the second generation of X-heroes who revitalized the series and brought it back from the dead. Len Wein and Dave Cockrum released Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975, which brought the series back to the public’s attention. The original X-Men series, which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started publishing in 1963, had lost its fire, and the book was effectively cancelled in 1970. The comic continued to be published, though, reprinting old stories but without any new content, until the series was given a jump-start in 1975, thanks to Cockrum and Wein (although Wein, the writer AND editor for the book, would rather quickly give up writing duties, being replaced by his assistant, Chris Claremont.) This book gave us a passel of new characters, some exciting dramatic tension, and a gigantic, living island to fight against! (It sounds weird---and it was.)

Collected in the book are Giant-Size X-Men #1, 3, and 4; a couple of X-Men Origins stories; a more modern retelling of G-S X-M #1 called X-Men: Deadly Genesis; a couple of issues from the What If? series; a fanzine from 1975; some concept art; and a bunch more stuff. It’s a beefy book, which explores the characters from a dozen different angles, and actually contains some genuinely interesting historical material. The fanzine is fun, the character sketches and costume development are insightful, and learning about how the careers of the creators affected the development of the comic itself was pretty cool.

So what about the stories themselves? The full Giant-Size X-Men #1 is reprinted in this book, and it starts with Professor X hopping around the world collecting various mutants to help him with a special project that he says is of vital importance to the entire world. He finds a few characters who would become intrinsic to the series in later issues: Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm; and a few who didn’t last too long. These little vignettes, mini-origin stories for several of the characters, are somewhat interesting, although the spoken dialog seems a bit (I mean, “offensively”) stereotypical to me. The Irish character, Banshee, has to say “laddy” and things like, “’tis good t’ be seein’ ye,” so we know he’s Irish. (Ack.) And each ethnic stereotype falls nastily into their cultural roles…right “comrads!” But it was 1975, and the creators were TRYING, I believe, to be inclusive.

The problem with G-S X-M #1, however, it that it’s rather nonsensical. I know comics in the 60s and 70s were mostly targeted at kids, and I know that garish costumes were in fashion, and I know that the entire PREMISE of humans born with weird super-powers is far-fetched to the extreme, but this initial story, which ushered in the age of the NEW X-Men… I’m sort of surprised it took hold. I don’t want to spoil the plot for people who haven’t read it, so I’m not going into the details, but let’s just say this as a general summary: there are too many characters involved who don’t really need to be there---they don’t contribute anything specific to the story; there are some weird branches to the plot that seem completely superfluous (various sub-teams are dropped onto this big island in various locations, for no real reason, and then---after they each overcome some weird little challenge, they all randomly meet back up at the same location); and the final battle with the main foe in the story ends with a WHOPPER, as far as physics goes. But for an introductory story, I suppose it served its purpose: it gave the world some new X-Men to sink their teeth into. (And, to be fair, in Chris Claremont’s hands, the stories did get A LOT better later on!)

The rest of the comics collected in this book are either recursive retellings of Giant-Size X-Men #1, or they are addendums, adding new information to that original story and changing the meanings of the events. The Deadly Genesis storyline, which was a six issue mini-series written by Ed Brubaker, is quite good, although it demolishes Professor X as a person, showing him to be a callous, almost egomaniacal villain, who is willing to risk the lives of a bunch of people just to further his own agenda. My favorite stories in the book were actually the What If? tales, but I’ve always like that “alternate reality” type of thing, personally.

Overall, this is a fascinating collection of material, which shows how comics have evolved over the last several decades. The supplemental materials are very cool, and the VARIETY of artifacts collected here is seriously impressive, demonstrating how much thought, effort, and work goes into a (seemingly) simple comic. For someone just looking for a good story to read, this might not be the collection for you. The recursive nature of this collection, in which the same story is basically told and retold and reimagined and retold again, could make it a bit tedious for the average reader (unless that reader happens to be a Samuel Beckett fan, who loves elliptical and recursive texts…) But for someone who already loves the X-Men and who is curious to see how they RE-SPRANG into being, then I recommend grabbing a copy of this book right away. (Really though, if you’ve NEVER read an X-Men book, either start with the Marvel Masterworks collections that go back to Lee and Kirby, or grab a Chris Claremont penned graphic novel. Claremont---he can tell a story!)

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

“Read a Damn Book – 061: The Castle of Otranto”

Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto (1765/1901)

The Castle of Otranto is a fun, melodramatic, “gothic” novel published in 1765. (Wikipedia says 1764, but Project Gutenberg puts the date at 1765, so I’m going with that.) The ebook version that I read comes from a 1901 manuscript, but the introduction of the book, written by Walpole, suggests the story was a lost, Italian tale printed in the 1500s, but that it might have been written several hundred years before that. These notes are actually just an elaborate frame for the story, which was written by Walpole himself, according to Gutenberg, based on dream that Walpole had. According to many different sources, this short novel is credited as the first GOTHIC tale ever published.

Okay it’s gothic, but how good can a book be that was written 250 years ago? Surprisingly, it’s a fun, weird story, that reminds me a bit of The Princess Bride! It’s got sinister plots, an evil prince, and sword fights (no shrieking eels or Andre the Giant, though, but it’s 250 years old! Give it a break!) What it ALSO has, and this is what I enjoy, are supernatural occurrences all over the place! There are ghosts and visions and a giant, armored harbinger of doom… I’m telling you, if you want a weird ghost story this winter (and you can stomach some pre-Victoria moral piety), this is the book for you. (It’s also available as a free download for your e-reader from a few different places, including Project Gutenberg!)

Here’s a short plot summary, although I’m not going to say too much, because half the fun of the story is in the exciting revelations. Here goes: Prince Manfred, the lord of Castle Otranto, is about to marry his favorite child, his son Conrad, to Princess Isabella, thus forming a powerful political bond that Manfred hopes will secure the fortunes of his family line for generations to come. Unfortunately, Conrad is killed on the day of the wedding, in the first of a series of strange, supernatural circumstances. Manfred, his hopes for the continuation of his family line crushed, SNAPS, and he goes berserk.

Conrad’s death and Manfred’s mania set off a number of bizarre incidents. The Castle Otranto is overrun with ghosts and specters, and family revelations come back to (literally) haunt Manfred and his innocent and pious wife and daughter. Some of the occurrences in the story are humorous, but most are tragic, and all of the major plot points are pushed along by ghostly visitations, prophecies, and wild conspiracies. It’s not a very long novel, but a lot is jammed into it, and the writing is surprisingly readable for a book that is more than two centuries old.

For those bothered my melodramatic dialog or pious sentimentality, the novel might get a bit tedious. Most of the characters in the tale are good, Christian citizens who make these grand, sweeping speeches about following the will of heaven or weep bitter tears about betraying the trust of their parents by falling in love with the wrong person. Taken at face value, it can get a bit sickening, (for those of us who tend not to believe in DESTINY,) but I like to pretend that it’s all high camp, and I try to read the novel like you would read a melodrama about a nasty villain, twittling his moustache as he ties a damsel to the train tracks.

Overall, it’s a quick, fun read, humorously tragic, with a great story frame, and plenty of ghosts and sinister plot twists to keep a modern reader entertained, AND you’ll be able to brag to all your friends that you’ve read the first GOTHIC novel every published, which was written way back in the GEOGRIAN era (the one BEFORE the Victorian era.) That’s the kind of thing that not everyone can say! The language isn’t as tricky or poetic as Shakespeare, and there aren’t any dirty words or explicitly gory murder scenes, so it’s safe even for a timid soul, as long as you’re not too afraid of ghosts! Definitely worth the effort!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Read a Damn Book – 060: The Illuminatus! Trilogy”


Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson – The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975/1984)

Holy excrement… This week, I’m finally getting around to writing about the most wack-a-doo, hilarious, demented, science fiction, conspiracy, adventure-based, religious text (slash) social critique (slash) social deprogramming (or secret society REprogramming) series that I’ve ever read. (I hope that sentence wasn’t confusing… or that it WAS confusing, but only confusing for people who aren’t IN-THE-GNO…) And the squirrel runs back up the tree…because he knows THEY are watching, and I think there’s a tracking program in the digital copy that I read, so THEY also know I’m writing this review! (I’ll try to be nice…)

In 1975, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson released The Eye in the Pyramid, the first of the three books in this trilogy. I’m not exactly sure when the next two books, The Golden Apple and Leviathan, were published, but according to several of the sources I consulted, the three books were packed together in a single 800+ page volume in 1984, and that’s really how this series HAS to be read. Before deciding to tackle this review, I’d already read the first two books, and I found them humorous, confusing, creepy, and even a bit hokey… Now that I’ve read the first two books TWICE, and finally finished the third book, I see how essential the final book is to making sense of the first two---if SENSE is the right word here.

The “story” as told by the two Roberts moves with frantic speed through various characters’ lives, frequently changing points of view, often without signaling that a change is coming. The story is told sometimes in first person, but mostly in third. TIME means almost nothing in these pages, as the tale bounces from “current” to past events, projects into the future, and then slips into extended hallucinatory segments, then spends pages on theories of reality and perception, exposition, and historical information. The narrative contains explicit scenes of sexual content, is swimming in drugs of every variety, and incorporates historical figures, like John Dillinger and Hitler and Lee Harvey Oswald, plus borrowed elements and situations from a variety of sources, from the Principia Discordia to H.P. Lovecraft to Carlos Castaneda to Laurel and Hardy.

There are a few graspable narrative threads that pop up here and there and some recurring characters to cling to, like a drowning swimmer would grasp a floating piece of debris after their boat explodes at sea---but after experiencing the initial shock of the quick jumps and narrative shifts (jarring enough to make Beckett blush), a reader grows accustomed to the style and learns to go with the flow. And those who valiantly push through the weirdness will be rewarded for their efforts because there’s a LOT to love here. The writing, when not being deliberately confusing, is very funny. There is a cunning mixture of the historical and plausible mashed into the blatantly fantastic and absurd, which I personally find charming and fun. The word play is clever, and the names of many of the characters are downright hilarious! (“Banana Nose” Maldonado, Mary Lou Servix, Dr. Vulcan Troll, Padre Pederastia, and Fission Chips (AKA Agent 00005), and so on. Great stuff!). However, if you think Game of Thrones has a few too many characters, you’ll definitely want to avoid this series.

Now, there IS a solid plotline to be found here---it comes in and out of the narrative for the first two books, but solidifies by the third. The gist goes something like this: one of the MANY competing secret organizations vying for world control plans to put together a large rock concert in Germany in an attempt to gather thousands of music fans together and kill them. The cosmic energy released by the deaths of so many people will fuel their nefarious, magical schemes, but luckily for humanity (and the talking dolphins), there is another group, led by a mysterious anarchist named Hagbard Celine, and this second group are either trying to STOP the massacre from happening, or maybe they are just going to use the rock concert to do something EQUALLY disastrous that furthers THEIR agenda. One of the things that this book is excellent at doing is pushing ambiguity into the red. Sometimes you think a certain character or group is evil, then you think maybe they’re good, then they’re evil again---until you eventually reach a point where you start to wonder if “evil” or “good” are inadequate terms. Motives are always in flux in this story, and the narrators are predictably unreliable, and then sometimes it’s just hard to keep the characters and plot threads straight.

Like I said at the beginning, this was my second time reading through The Eye in the Pyramid and The Golden Apple, and I still had a hard time following the story, (there are SO MANY CHARACTERS!!!), but I have to say this: the series is incredibly entertaining. It’s worth fighting through the confusion in order to get to the hilarious situations and weird philosophy that Shea and Anton Wilson have put together. If you have any sympathy for underground cultural movements (punks or the Situationists or the Discordians or rave culture or any REVOLUTIONARY activists) then this trilogy will probably be of interest to you. It’s not going to appeal to people who want a clear beginning, middle, and end to their stories, nor will it be an easy read for most people. The text is thick, recursive, and confusing. It might help if you’re already familiar with a ton of “higher consciousness” literature in the Tim Leary vein, as well as having the ability to swim in the conspiracy sea (Freemasons, Kennedy assassination, Atlantis, Rosicrucians, Theosophy, The Golden Dawn, etc…), but it’s still a bit of work to get through more than 800 pages of story PLUS the 20 or so appendices, which really do NEED to be read as well to get maximum closure. (The Roberts sneak plot development into the appendices! The dastardly fiends...)

The series is a crazy, drug fueled, sexually unhinged, magic infused, maddeningly paranoid, intentionally ridiculous trip, and one that I will certainly be taking again. I’ve already started looking for my next Robert Anton Wilson book to read, (so get ready for that.) Meanwhile, I’d say, if you’ve got the time and you think you’re mentally fit enough, give the Illuminatus! a try, although I can’t guarantee that you’ll come all the way back from this adventure!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

“Read a Damn Book – 059: Zombies Christmas Carol”

‘Tis the season…for reading about ghosts and horror stories. (Technically, for me EVERY season is for reading about ghosts and horror stories, but you knew that...) For this week’s review, I’m looking at a graphic novel adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol. It’s been REDONE about a million times already, but this time it has zombies in it! The book was given to me by my older daughter, Frankie, who spends a LOT of time at a cool comic shop in Vancouver, WA, called I Like Comics! (Maybe check them out if you’re in the area!) Thanks for the book, Frankie---and here we go!!!

Charles Dickens (reinterpreted by Jim McCann, David Baldeon, Jeremy Treece, etc.) – Zombies Christmas Carol (2011)

Although everyone has seen an adaptation of Dickens’ novella, whether the Beavis & Butthead version, or Scrooged with Bill Murray, or a local community theater rendition, I’m not sure how many modern folks have actually read the story. Dickens’ original book is decidedly dark, dealing with greed, withered emotions, supernatural horror, and death, and it’s actually a well written and interesting tale. (I’m going to have to reread and review the original real soon. It fits with our current “Haves vs Have Nots” society again...) So the original story, though considered a feel-good classic because of the redemption of Scrooge at the end, is actually a true horror story. Thus the Marvel Comics version isn’t completely out of left field.

In THIS rendition of the tale, Jim McCann, who wrote the script for the comic, adds a viral / spiritual zombie plague element to the familiar story, pushing the tale back to its more Victorian / gothic roots. The horror elements are more than just decorations, however, working on both a metaphorical level and as strong plot points. This retelling is moody and dark, and actually a lot creepier than I thought it was going to be! This is thanks to both the script writing AND the strong art.

The penciling duties for this story were shared by David Baldeon and Jeremy Treece, with inks provided by Jordi Tarragona and Roger Bonet, and despite the fact that the different sections have different art teams, the overall tone is quite consistent---it’s all dark and icky. The lines throughout the book are detailed and expressive, bringing to mind some of the “Good Old Days” of E.C.’s horror comics, with lots of Victorian flourishes, Expressionist shadows, and uncomfortable angles. And the zombies look great. The feeling that the “Hungry Dead” are right on the verge of taking over the population glooms through from the first few pages on. The ghosts, Marley and the Christmas spirits, are also quite well realized. I love the sort of horrific, pre-modern psych-ward look they gave to Marley, who is first shown with this vaguely freaky, caged helmet over his head… I think that most fans of horror comics will find a lot to enjoy in this book.

As far the zombie element is concerned, I’m probably not the only person in the world who is getting a bit tired of undead horrors, and I read this book mostly because my daughter gave it to me, but I’m glad I did. It’s a quick read, has a solid story (built on a classic structure, of course), and very good artwork and color. The end, which I didn’t expect, and which didn’t QUITE work for me, was okay, but the rest of the book was strong enough for me to overlook the somewhat flat finish. Was it NECESSARY for the creators to add zombies to this story? Not really, but since that’s the game they decided to play, and I knew the rules going in, it wasn’t too hard to play along. The book is dark, kind of sick, not TOO offensive, and has a handful of inexplicable moments, but overall, it’s a fun horror story. I’m sure I’ll read it again in a year or two.

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)