Saturday, June 09, 2007

Separated at Birth: Here we are now, entertain us

Star Spangled Comics #50 and Justice League #1

L: Star Spangled Comics #50 (November 1945), art by Fred Ray
R: Justice League #1 (May 1987), art by Kevin Magure and Terry Austin
(Click picture to Justi-size)

See also. And. Plus. Don't forget this one. Or this one. And. Not to mention. Another one. Hmmm, I coulda made this Ten of a Kind, couldn't I 've?

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dance Like a Monkey

"Dance Like a Monkey" by The New York Dolls, directed by Dano Johnson
Here's a less-pixelated version.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And then the little bull slept for a thousand years.

Time to retire.
BEA is hard, hard work, and I've got some well-deserved and heavy-duty sleeping to catch up on following my adventures in books. (Plus, my laptop is off to the shop to the wonderful folks at Tekserve.)

I'll be back this weekend, wide-awake and bushy-tailed on Saturday, just in time for "Saturday Morning Cartoon" and "Separated at Birth." Why not take a lengthy nap yourself and come back around then?

'Til then, be good to yourself and others, and see you on Satur


Monday, June 04, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #6: Heavy Weather

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Following a busy weekend at BookExpo America, there's no better Wodehouse book to delight myself with than Heavy Weather (1933), not merely because it's been muggy and hot both in Manhattan and in the setting of the novel, but because much of it is concerned with the threat of publication of a certain book (Galahad Threepwood's saucy memoirs). Heavy Weather even opens up in a publishing house, where Mammoth Publishing's agitated publisher has just learned Gally has refused to let his book be published. As Tilbury himself exclaims, "Cor!" Whatever is to be done?

But the delight of a novel concerned with my field of work and taking place in humid summer weather like I've been living with over the past few days is all secondary to my delight that this is one of Wodehouse's Blandings novels: the series concerning the denizens and guests of Blandings Castle, Shropshire. There are eleven novels (of which this is the fourth) and nine short stories about Blandings Castle, and to this little stuffed Wodehouse fan, there's not a dud among 'em. The joy and exuberance of Wodehouse shines exceptionally brightly in the Blandings books, and in the best of them he's at the tip-toppest of his sparkling career: intricate plots, howl-out-funny dialogue and narrative, loveable (and hissable) characters like dotty Lord Emsworth, Beach the butler, Lord Emsworth's terrifying sisters Connie and Julia, the outrageous Galahad Threepwood and his friend Uncle Fred Twistleton, assorted fake secretaries, maids, pig keepers and servants, and the single greatest non-speaking character in the entire Wodehousean canon: Empress of Blandings, prize-winning pig.

Also present in Heavy Weather is a now-familiar friend to readers of "A Wodehouse a Week"—why yes, it's Monty Bodkin of Pearls, Girls, and Monty Bodkin, sandwiched before that story and before the Mickey Mouse-smuggling antics of the (yet-to-be-reviewed by me) The Luck of the Bodkins. As in Pearls, Monty must hold down a job for an entire year to win approval to marry Gertrude Butterwick from Gertrude's father. As the story opens, Monty's serving as an editor of Tiny Tots ("that admirable children's paper") at Mammoth Publishing, but it's a sure bet that he'll be back on the street once Lord Tilbury reads the following Monty-contribution to Tiny Tots's latest number:
Well now, let's get down to it. This week, my dear little souls, Uncle Woggly is going to put you on to a good thing. We all want to make a spot of easy money these hard times, don't we? Well, here's the lowdown, straight from the horse's mouth. All you have to do is get hold of some mug and lure him into betting that a quart whisky bottle holds a quart of whisky.

Sounds rummy, what? I mean, that's what you would naturally think that it would hold. So does the mug. But it isn't. It's really more, and I'll tell you why.

First you fill the bottle. This gives you your quart. Then you shove the cork in. And then—follow me closely here—you turn the bottle upside down and you'll find there's a sort of bulging-ion part at the bottom. Well, slosh some whisky into that, and there you are. Because the bot. is now holding more than a quart and you scoop the stakes.
Useful info I would enjoy reading in any of my children's magazines, but it gets Monty tossed out into the street, jobless again and this (as they say) is where the fun starts.

Through the help of his friendly ex-fianceé and ex-chorus-girl Sue Brown, Monty secures a job as secretary to Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle, where Sue is based (she's engaged to be married to Emsworth's nephew Ronnie). Double complications from the start: 1) Ronnie being the jealous type, Monty and Sue don't dare let on that they know each other, much less were once engaged, and 2) Monty's uncle is the notorious Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, rival to Lord Emsworth in the annual Market Blandings agricultural fair pig Emsworth naturally assumes Monty has been sent there from Parsloe to hobble his pig, the serene and plump Empress of Blandings. Got that? Hang onto those facts. At the same time, Emsworth's brother, the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, has just finished his memoirs of club life at the turn of the century, the publication of which will embarrass members of cultured high society—including Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe—with true tales of their wild youthful antics. Gally has promised not to publish the book if Emsworth gives the engaged Ronnie his full trust fund in order to get married. Mammoth Publishing head Tilbury, with sparkling pound signs in his beady eyes, hires shady private detective Percy Pilbeam to steal it. Pilbeam's also been hired by Emsworth's sister Lady Constance to steal the manuscript to completely remove the threat of publication and public humiliation. Parsloe wants the manuscript stolen to avoid revealing his wayward past. Like Parsloe, Monty is suspected of trying to sabotage the Empress of Blanding's fair prospects but instead becomes entangled in the plot to steal the manuscript. With me so far? Did I mention one of the greatest butlers in the history of English literature, Beach? I did not, but he's vital to the plot, too. In short, it's the perfect Blandings novel: characters rushing to and fro, changing loyalties, being lightly blackmailed, and what Hitchcock might call a MacGuffin but which is a sheaf of manuscript pages entitled The Reminiscences of Galahad Threepwood to Wodehouse, shuffled back and forth from desk drawer to butler's pantry to pigsty in an elaborate game of hide the memoirs, until your head is quite dizzy at trying to remember who's in the game for money, who's in it for themselves and who's in it for love.

Aside from the always-captivating characters, intricate coincidences and carefully-planned plot, Wodehouse adds a rare third element he often comments on but does not usually make such a major point of as he does in this book: the titular heavy weather. It's deep summer in London and Shropshire, and weather influences and directs much of the plot and happenstances in ways I don't remember being evident in his other novels. It's not mere coincidence that Heavy Weather's first line is "Sunshine pierced the haze that enveloped London." The weather is warm and growing more oppressive: barometer's falling, and it ain't gonna be raining men in the world of Wodehouse, it's going to be directly the storyline. Like each of his cast of characters, Wodehouse's weather has an absolutely essential and important part to play. The action of the book spins and grows more elaborate and entangled straight through the first half, even as weather references pop up, warning of the turmoil ahead. Witness the following beautifully vivid paragraph, which could have come straight out of Thomas Hardy...until a typical Wodehousean turn pops in at the very last second:
It was four o'clock of a sultry, overcast, oppressive afternoon, and a sudden stillness had fallen on the world. The heat wave which for the past two weeks had been grilling England was in the uncomfortable process of working up to a thunderstorm. Shropshire, under a leaden sky, had taken on a sinister and a brooding air. The flowers in the garden drooped forlornly. The lake was a grey smudge, and the river in the valley below a thread of sickly tarnished silver. Gone, too, was the friendly charm of the Scotch fir spinneys that dotted the park. They seems now black and haunted and menacing, as if witches lived in crooked little cottages in the heart of them.

'Ugh!' said Sue, hating Shropshire.
The storm breaks midway through the novel, and like the storm in King Lear, it serves as a turning point for the lazy susan of the plot's action to take its specific turn. The rain traps Pilbeam on the estate grounds instead of fleeing across the back gardens, so he takes refuge in a gardening shed and hides the pilfered manuscript in a pile of hay rather than getting away scot-free with it. The heavy weather convinces Beach the butler, more portly than Adonis, to mop his brow and stop in for a beer at the local pub, where he overhears the plot to steal the manuscript. And the rain catches Monty Bodkin full force, soaking him to the skin, so that when he dashes to the house to towel off, Ronnie spots a telltale tattoo and assumes the worst: that Sue still loves Monty and Monty still loves Sue:
...Ronnie Fish uttered a quick, sharp exclamation.

Monty looked up, surprised. His benefactor had turned a vivid vermilion and was staring at him in a marked manner.

'Eh?' he said, puzzled.

Ronnie did not speak immediately. He appeared to be engaged in swallowing some hard, jagged substance.

'On your chest,' he said at length, in a strange, toneless voice.


Eton and Cambridge came to Ronnie's aid. Outwardly calm, he swallowed again, picked a piece of fluff off his left sleeve, and cleared his throat.

'There's something on your chest.'

He paused.

'It looks like "Sue".'

He paused again.

'"Sue",' he said casually, 'with a heart round it.'

The hard jagged substance seemed to have transferred itself to Monty's throat. There was a brief silence while he disposed of it.

He was blaming himself. Rummy, he reflected ruefully, how when you saw a thing day after day for a couple or years or so it ceased to make any impression on what he rather fancied was called the retina. This heart-encircled 'Sue', this pink and ultramarine tribute to a long-vanished love, which in a gush of romantic fervour he had caused to be graven on his skin in the early days of their engagement, might during the last eighteen months just as well not have been there for all the notice he had taken of it. He had practically forgotten that it was still in existence.

It was a moment for quick thinking.

'Not "Sue",' he said. '"S.U.E."—Sarah Ursula Ebbsmith.'


'Sarah Ursula Ebbsmith," repeated Monty firmly. 'Girl I used to be engaged to. She died. Pneumonia. Very sad. Don't let's talk of it.'

There was a long pause. Ronnie moved to the door. His feelings were almost too deep for words, but he managed a couple.

'Well, bung-ho!'
Weep no tears for shattered Ronnie and poor Sue, because Ronnie will see the light and the truth when Galahad forces them to sit down and talk to each other; like Sherlock Holmes, the outrageous older uncle untangled the skein of missing manuscripts, lost loves and pilfered pigs with incisive delight. This is a comedy, after all, and it all ends happily, with lovers clasping each other to their bosoms, marriages set to be scheduled (at least until the next Monty Bodkin novel) and while I won't tell you the final fate of an important MacGuffin, let's just say that like much of the novel's action, the problem is solved by nature...but not so much an Act of God as an Act of Pig.

Any Wodehouse book is a wonderful thing; even the lesser ones (I haven't gotten to The Coming of Bill yet but I shan't be as complimentary) have a few moments to recommend them. The Blandings novels, along with the Jeeves stories, are the cream of the crop, and you could do worse than to spend a humid summer day lazing in a hammock with a cold glass of lemonade and burying yourself in Blandings. Beach, Lord Emsworth, and Gally are among Wodehouse's top comic creations, and the more I read of the many adventures of Monty Bodkin the more I enjoy him as an epitome of Wodehouse's hapless heroes. You really should read the book instead of simply paging through my excerpts, but what the dilly: one more half-page excerpt then, to take you inside the befuddled, absent-minded, but utterly pig-focused world of Clarence, Lord Emsworth:
'God bless my soul!' said Lord Emsworth querulously.

He turned from the piano, and Lady Constance was enabled to see him steadily and see him whole. The sight caused her to utter a stricken cry.



'What—what is that thing in your shirt-front?'

The ninth Earl squinted down.

'It's a paper-fastener. One of those brass things you fasten papers with. I lost my stud.'

'You must have more than one stud.'

'Here's another, up here.'

'Have you only two studs?'

'Three,' said Lord Emsworth, a little proudly. 'For the front of the shirt, three. Dashed inconvenient things. The heads come off. You screw them on and then you put them in and then you screw them on.'

'Well, go straight up to your room and screw on the spare one.'

It was not often that Lord Emsworth found himself in the position of being able to score a debating point against his sister Constance. The fact that he was about to do so now filled him with justifiable complacency. It seemed to lend to his manner a strange, quiet dignity.

'I can't,' he said. 'I swallowed it.'
I only have one edition in my collection of Heavy Weather: an early 1980s Penguin paperback with a cheery Ionicus illustration of Lord Tilbury confronting Gally. That edition's long out of print, but you can pick up this perfect piece of art in a newer Penguin edition with a doleful frog on the cover (A frog? Why not a hog?) by clicking on the link to the right. Extra bonus: this edition has an introduction by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite contemporary writers. Gee, now I'm going to have to get that edition too. See what Wodehouse inspires in me? I won't buy multiple copies of comic books anymore, but I'm a sucker for different editions of my favorite author. Whatever edition you pick up, this is one of Wodehouse's high points and a wonderful introduction or return to the world of Blandings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BEA Day 3: Pop-Up Lightsabers, Lotsa Buttons and a Guy Who "Gets It"

BEA 2007I have proven that the people who run the BookExpo America actually read my blog, because the air conditioning was running wonderfully today on the final day of BEA. Third day's the charm! I know that by, say, Comic-Con standards, a three-day trade show is a piker, but it's a hard long show, especially if you're there to work either as an exhibitor or an attendee, and the comfortable decrease in temperature (it was almost a little too chilly in the hour previous to the floor's opening to attendees this morning!) took a little bit of the edge off. Sure, my legs and arms still ache, I haven't slept enough and am exhausted, and my hooves have bubbly blisters on them, but at least I wasn't soaking with sweat today.

It was another busy day. BEA Sundays are traditionally the lowest attendance of the three days, and this one kept to that pattern with a sparser crowd, but there were still plenty of folks sweeping through the aisles and stoppin' by to see our fine books and sales reps. We'll have to wait a few days for Publishers Weekly to report on the show attendance records, but every single day seemed to be the busiest and highest-attended BEA in many years, including the most recent New York City ones.

No signings or events in the Norton booth today, but there's still plenty of work to do: fun pals from all parts of the book industry stop by to say hi and hear about our books, and there's still plenty of time to wander hobble around the BEA pavilions, partly to pick up trade catalogues for later perusal, but mostly just to see if there was any more cool stuff to see. And there was! That's the beauty of BEA: it's so varied and vast that even over three days you don't always see it all. (Note to the people who run the BookExpo America, whom I have proven actually read my blog: do not make it longer!) I haven't had a chance to swing through the lower level children's' exhibitions, so a quick hop on the escalator and I'm into the wonderful world of kids. First stop: the Candlewick Books booth, where I get to cast my peepers on their upcoming X-Men Pop-Up:

I like this series because it actually uses classic art from the big-name artists who made the characters what they are, rather than the more modern and sometimes generic house art. What better way to introduce new comics fans to the energy and power of the art of Dave Cockrum and Jack Kirby than by pokin' 'em in the face with it?:

How entranced was I by this X-Men Pop-Up book? So entranced that I completely failed to notice there was free candy right behind it.

But the belle of the pop-up book ball at BEA certainly has to be Scholastic's Star Wars Pop-Up. How freakin' cool is this? So freakin' cool the lightsabers light up!:

Scholastic is also the home of Harry Potter, and I was kindly given a wonderful Harry tote bag by a smiling Scholastic rep. But no matter how much I asked she would not let me look at any copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. I guess they really are keeping that a secret! I had to satisfy my Harry fandom by stopping by the Klutz Press booth and examining the very-cool Build Your Own Hogwarts Castle Set:

And so I did! With a little help from the kind Klutz reps. Tiny little cardboard Dumbledore not included.

You can also meet plenty of fine pals around the children's floor:

Here's a cow friend who is afraid of pins:

But this guy is just plain noisy:

And look! I can learn Spanish with Batman! Repeat after me: Soy la maldición Batman del dios!

Back upstairs, I swing by the Newmarket Press booth to discover to my dismay that I did not win the Dreamgirls contest drawing. I will never get to meet Beyoncé at this rate!:

But at the HarperCollins booth, I'm instantly cheered up by the announcement that at last, David Michaelis's Charles Schulz biography is coming this fall. Good grief!:

I'm not a massive Artemis Fowl fan, but a free 16-page color preview of the upcoming Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel looks well-done and entertaining, with solid art by Giovanni Rigano. I'm all for anything that introduces kids to the medium of comics by using their favorite characters from lit:

And I'm absolutely gobsmacked at how wonderfully beautiful Little Brown's Tintin boxed set will be (this is the French edition, but the English one is coming soon):

Diligent Little Brown reps kept me from drooling all over their sample Tintin box and instead gave me a wonderful Tintin bag! I will sit in it and wait for the box set to come out:

And let's not forget the main reason to attend BEA: enough free promotional buttons to cover me from head to toe!:

In my final daily report from last year's BEA, I lamented some of the lost chances Marvel Comics had (and blew) to present and promote their graphic novels to a captive audience of trade booksellers. As I reported this past Friday, Marvel gets a slightly better grade, but today on my wanders through the BEA aisles I met and got a chance to chat with a guy who "gets it"—Boom! Studio's Ross Richie.

I stepped up to the Boom! Booth, stuck out my hoof and introduced myself to Ross as a friend of Kevin Church. To Ross's credit and professionalism, he did not reply "Aren't you a little short for a bottle of whiskey?" but instead greeted me energetically and enthusiastically, and we talked about the BEA show and the comics industry. Ross kindly gave me some cool Boom! comics:

...but more impressive than the gift of free comics, was a sheaf of thorough and professional color sales sheets for his upcoming titles that Ross gave me:

There's a lot of information on these sell sheets, and it's exactly the sort of information I didn't see Marvel offering visitors to its booth: sales handles and selling points, marketing, comparables, author biographies, and full book descriptions: absolutely everything a bookstore buyer or manager needs to get up to speed on a Boom! trade paperback. Ross also showed me an advance copy of the second Hero Squared trade paperback, which was beautifully done: great trim size (6" x 9"), excellent price point ($14.99), beautiful color and intriguing back cover copy. Boom! also is now distributed to the bookstore trade by publisher Perseus, a smart move which will increase Boom!'s presence in bricks-and-mortar chain and independent and internet booksellers...exactly the audience who is attending BEA. I don't care for every single one of Boom!'s comics, but I'm exceptionally impressed by their business plan and BEA presence, and I wish Ross and company all the best. I think that he "gets" it in ways some bigger companies...and I'm not even talking specifically comic companies...don't. And that, as I like to say, is a very Good Thing. In the end, it's what makes BEA worthwhile: not just the parties, not just the freebies, not even the chance to see Stephen Colbert...but a great place to meet bookstore managers and buyers and promote and sell your books. Getting a wider and more extensive range of graphic novels into general trade bookstores is definitely a good thing, and that's what BEA is all about.

It's now many hours later. We've torn down the big Norton booth ("The Grey Lady"), we've packed up our books, we've had our last BEA dinner and we've hobbled to our airplanes and homes. I'm aching and tired and exhausted but filled with the buzz and energy from an excellent and productive BEA. Why, I've got so much energy that I think can get lots more done tonight! Why, I'll finish that Wodehouse book and get a head-start on my blog entry for tomorrow, watch some of the shows Tivoed in my absence, play with my much-missed kittycat, maybe do the dishes and...then (yawnnnnnnnnn)...then I'll...


Ten of a Kind (Special BEA Edition): Why do you think they call them comic books?

(More Ten of a Kind here.)