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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Four “New Classic” Graphic Novels

Posted by Fred on June 24, 2008

For its 1000th issue, Entertainment Weekly published several lists of “New Classics,” defined as works created since 1983. The full collection is online as the EW 1000.  EW has always treated comics with respect (Time Warner has a vested interest in the success of the form, of course), and the list of 100 New Classic books includes four graphic novels:

7. Maus, Art Spiegelman

The story of The Holocaust and the experiences of one family that survived it.  Spiegelman famously used animal heads on human bodies to portray the players: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, Frenchmen are frogs, and Swedes are reindeer.  Spiegelman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992.

13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Without Watchmen, there probably would be no such thing as a graphic novel.  Moore and Gibbons’ masterwork, originally published as twelve single issues in 1986-1987, is set in an alternate 1985, in which costumed heroes are real and the Doomsday Clock is set at five minutes to midnight. Some familiarity with superhero archetypes is helpful for a full appreciation of the story, which nominally tells the tale of heroes without superpowers (with one glaringly notable exception), dealing with human failings, neuroses and ethical dilemmas.  A film version of Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, is due to be released in March 2009.  It will probably suck.

37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Drawing inevitable comparisons to Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s simple black-and-white panels are a heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  The two volumes depict the author’s experiences from age six to fourteen, a time which saw the overthrow of the Shah, the rise of the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq.  Persepolis was recently released as an animated film, written and directed by Satrapi, with voices in the original by Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian.  In the US, the film was dubbed into English, and included Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands (in addition to Deneuve and Mastroianni).

46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman

With all due respect to Watchmen, I personally prefer Sandman.  Neil Gaiman’s 75-issue series, published by DC imprint Vertigo from 1989-1996, focuses on Morpheus, King of Dreams, and (to a lesser extent) his siblings that make up The Endless.  Gaiman summarizes the plot as “The Lord of Dreams learns one must change or die and then makes his decision.”  The best part of Sandman (in addition to Dave McKean’s great covers) was the wide-ranging exploration of mythology the series made possible, which Gaiman would return to in prose novels like American Gods.  Sandman is available in ten individual trade paperback editions, or the four-volume Absolute Sandman series, the final volume of which is to be released this November.  Although there has long been talk of a Sandman film, the closest we’re likely to get is a version of Death: The High Cost of Living, a 1993 three-issue miniseries focusing on Morpheus’ older sister, to be written and directed by Gaiman with Guillermo del Toro as executive producer.

There are other great graphic novels, of course (Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan and Planetary are personal favorites), but that’s a good list.


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Neil Gaiman to release book online for free

Posted by Fred on February 11, 2008

To celebrate his blog’s birthday, Neil Gaiman is going to release one of his prose works online for free for a month. Which one? His letting his readers decide. You can go to his site to vote, or click below:

While I’d personally rather see something like Absolute Sandman online for free, it’s nice to see Neil rewarding his fans.  Of those books, I like American Gods the best (and it’s the clear leader so far), but one of the story collections may work better online.

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Del Toro to direct The Hobbit

Posted by Fred on February 5, 2008


From The Guardian:

Guillermo del Toro has officially signed up to direct The Hobbit, according to reports leaking out from a film premiere in France. The Pan’s Labyrinth creator will oversee a double-bill of films based on JRR Tolkien’s fantasy adventure, which paved the way for The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, director of the Oscar-winning Rings trilogy, will serve as executive producer.

Yay. Pan’s Labyrinth was great. Hellboy was adequate.  del Toro has a visual style which at first glance would seem a bit dark for The Hobbit, which is a far less dark and ominous tale than The Lord of the Rings, but the same could probably have been said of Peter Jackson before he made LOTR or Alfonso Cuarón before he made Prisoner of Azkaban.  While The Hobbit shares a setting and primary characters with the Lord of the Rings, it reads as a novel written for an entirely different audience (which is as Tolkien intended it – The Hobbit was a book for children, not adults).  I hope that Jackson and del Toro take this into account, and don’t merely film The Hobbit as a LOTR prequel (or two).

Update: Luke says that Tolkien didn’t intend The Hobbit to be a children’s book, and was intended to be a part of the larger mythology that began with the Silmarillion. The truth is more complicated than that.  The larger mythology was primarily created while Tolkien was recuperating from injuries sustained at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  Tolkien’s early stories were eventually published as two separate volumes of The Book of Lost Tales in the 1980s.  Tolkien developed a “legendarium” surrounding these stories, which eventually evolved into The Silmarillion.  The Hobbit, however, was a book Tolkien told to his own children and by most accounts never intended to publish.  He did say that “[i]t’s not even very good for children. I wrote some of it in a style for children, but that’s what they loathe. If I hadn’t done that, though, people would have thought I was loony.”

So The Hobbit is a book not really intended for children and not very good for children, but originally told to Dr. Tolkien’s own children and written partially in a style for children.  Make of that what you will.  The larger point remains, however.  The Hobbit is not just a prequel to LOTR, and if the film comes out as if it were, the filmakers will have done the work a disservice.

[via Kottke]

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Scoble hates on the Kindle: doesn’t do enough irrelevant stuff

Posted by Fred on November 26, 2007

Scoble doesn’t like the Kindle much.  If by “not much” we mean “everyone associated with the project should be fired.” He’s got an advantage on me – he’s used one for a week, which is exactly a week longer than I’ve used one.  But I still say his criticisms are (largely) bogus.

Scoble: No ability to buy paper goods from Amazon through Kindle.

Me: Robert gets off to an OK start here; it’s odd that you can’t use an Amazon product to buy other Amazon products.  But is the Kindle an all-purpose internet device or an e-book reader with internet functionality designed to complement e-book consumption?  It seems that Kindle’s mobile broadband and web access is really intended to get content from the interwebs onto the device so you can read it. Everything else is secondary (but it’s still an odd choice on Bezos’ part).

Scoble: Usability sucks. They didn’t think about how people would hold this device.

Me:  Fair enough if true.  Ergonomics are important, and others have complained about button placement. It does seem ergonomically superior to the Sony reader and much smaller repurposed devices (PDA, iPhone, etc.).  An e-book needs to be roughly the proportions of an actual book, in my opinion.  There’s a reason books are shaped like they are.

Scoble: UI sucks. Menus? Did they hire some out-of-work Microsoft employees?

Me: Robert is starting to go off the tracks here.  This is a variation on his later beef about touch screens.  Not everything is an iPhone. Not everything should be.  Sure, a UI based on big icons and a touch screen would be great, but for 90% of the time you’re using the device, you don’t need to touch the screen (it’s an e-book reader, remember?).  The primary requirements for the display are (a) that it is easy to read, which means black text on a white background and (b) it doesn’t drain the battery in two hours.

Scoble: No ability to send electronic goods to anyone else. I know Mike Arrington has one. I wanted to send him a gift through this of Alan Greenspan’s new book. I couldn’t. That’s lame.  No social network. Why don’t I have a list of all my friends who also have Kindles and let them see what I’m reading?

Me:  These are actually two different complaints, but they come from the same place.  Just like everything need not be an iPhone, not every service should be Facebook.  This mad rush to create social networks around everything diminishes both the social network and the service.  There’s plenty of other avenues to share your reading list with your friends, and Amazon rightly chose to concentrate on the core functionality of the Kindle instead of the latest Web 2.0 faddishness.  It’s a far more significant accomplishment that you can download e-books into your library wirelessly than it would be to create a Kindle social network that most people wouldn’t use anyway.

Scoble: No touch screen. The iPhone has taught everyone that I’ve shown this to that screens are meant to be touched. Yet we’re stuck with a silly navigation system because the screen isn’t touchable.

Me: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Touchscreens are a good idea for some devices, but a bad idea for others.  In some cases, adding a touchscreen would make the device harder to use (imagine replacing the TV remote with a touchscreen). In this case, adding a touchscreen would require compromises in other areas. It would make the device significantly more expensive.  It’s already too expensive at $399. It would decrease battery life, as the reason the battery lasts so long is that e-ink only draws power when the display changes (ask Steve Jobs about design compromises driven by lengthening time between recharges). Finally, the screen on the Kindle is designed primarily for displaying text.  Everything else is secondary, and for now at least, there’s no such thing as an e-ink touchscreen.  And for an e-book, e-ink and menus trumps touch.

The Kindle is clearly an imperfect device, that is incrementally better than what came before it. The technology still isn’t there to make it good enough to replace paper for me, and the economics of the Kindle Marketplace are still off.  So there’s a lot to criticize.  That it isn’t an iPhone/Facebook/browser that happens to also display text isn’t where to start, however.

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Marvel Digital Comics – get your geek on

Posted by Fred on November 13, 2007


Marvel is placing a bunch of their back issues online in a subscription service, Marvel Digital Comics. Subscriptions are about $10 per month or $60 for a year.  About 2500 titles are to be available, and marvel says you can see 250 for free.  The Free section appears to include only Astonishing X-Men #1 and Avengers #52, but you can open most titles and view about six pages without logging in.  The interface is a Flash app that runs in the browser – here’s the first two pages of the first appearance of Spiderman, from 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 (click for full size):


There’s a wide range of titles available – here’s a list of the creators represented.  And here’s a list of what Marvel deems the highlights of the collection.  The biggest downside to the service is it’s web-based, which means you have to be online to use it.  No downloading issues to read on the train.  The app also seems a little slow, but that may just be because all the geeks are online at once.

I was never a huge Marvel fan.  growing up, I liked DC better, and now if I want something mainstream I prefer Wildstorm or Vertigo.  But clearly Marvel gets it when it comes to new media.  Their movie franchises are in far better shape than the moribund DC properties (even if it means some really questionable adaptations). They’ve reached out to writers from other genres, with Joss Whedon and Orson Scott Card both penning scripts.  And this effort shows that they are willing to embrace the internet.  The future of the industry is not paper books sold in specialty shops by geeks who actually know that Spidey first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15.  I’m not sure what that future is, but it certainly involves the web.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia Download Squad

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Man teased for big, stupid tattoo of fake, dead gay guy

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

dumbledore_tat.jpgDon’t spend a year getting a 2 foot tattoo of a fictional character if it’s going to bother you if said fictional character turns out to be gay and in love with another fictional character

“When I walked in, one of the lads said, ‘Oi, Paul – heard about Dumbledore?’“There were wisecracks about ‘Watch your backs, lads.’ Someone asked me if I was planning to get a tattoo of Graham Norton. I thought, ‘Why me?’ ”

The huge £500 tattoo shows Dumbledore holding a scroll bearing the names of his Harry Potter mad children – Charlotte, Deanna, Brandon, Tamzin and Paris.

Paul said: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Given that the tattoo took a year to create, one presumably can’t blame the beer. One does wonder, however, what they guy thought he would do ten years from now, when Dumbledore wouldn’t exactly be fresh. One also hopes the dude had some alcohol handy whilst reading the portions of the final book when it looked like D might not turn out to be such a good wizard (of course anyone who thought this idea was a good one probably doesn’t read much). Better to be gay than dark.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia Hit & Run

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Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss

Posted by Fred on October 5, 2007

Boing Boing has an interesting post about The Deep, a collection of undersea photographs of truly bizarre species (Amazon link). BB likes the UFO-like Benthocodon jellyfish, with it’s very cool red pod bay doors, but I’m more intrigued by the dumbo octopus (grimpoteuthis), which look like Pokemon:



There are a lot more pictures in the book’s photo gallery.  The best commentary on the book may come from Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal (quoted on the Amazon page):

In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder—in a bout of oceanic hubris—pronounced that there were precisely 176 species of marine fauna and that, ”by Hercules, in the ocean . . . nothing exists which is unknown for us.” Would that we could summon Pliny from his celestial Hall of Shame and thwack him over the head with Claire Nouvian’s The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss. For this book contains 220 color plates of life-forms whose existence was unknown not merely to Pliny but to anyone at all until the modern development of submersibles capable of plunging to depths that are the inverse of a Mount Everest. Only 5% of the seafloor has been mapped, and scientists estimate that there are between 10 million and 30 million species in the ”vasty deep” yet to be found by man. The ones that we do know—and many of those are pictured in this book—are gloriously bizarre critters that appear to have been fashioned by Salvador Dali. They bear pulse-quickening names that are as if from some weird children”s fable: naked sea butterflies, spookfish, pigbutt worms, cutthroat eels, helmet jellies, glasshead grenadiers and yeti crabs. Hued in pink, red, blue, orange, white and purple, these deep-sea denizens can seem repulsive, with their fangs and hooks and hooded eyes. Many of them, however, are balletic little beauties—bioluminescent, geometrical designs that hum with a life beyond our reach, but not, anymore, beyond our imagination.

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