Monday, April 17, 2017

Recently Read: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader strikes me as the most melancholy of the Narnia books I've read so far; it benefits from being the one book in the series without a clear villain and is simply a picaresque voyage to the end of the world (aka Aslan's country).

Like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, newcomer to Narnia Eustace Scrubb undergoes a change of character as the narrative proceeds. Most of the book takes place aboard the ship the Dawn Treader, led by Prince Caspian, who's attempting to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia (see the book, Prince Caspian). The islands explored and adventures undertaken are by turns disturbing, exciting and amusing. A standout is Lucy Pevensie's creepy journey through the upstairs quarters of a magician named Coriakin.

The novel culminates in a remarkably metaphysical setting, as the Dawn Treader can literally go no further into the end of the world and Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep journey on into the strange, dreamlike, lilly-filled water in a small boat. One could argue that Aslan's country is as much a metaphor for mortality as heaven and Reepicheep's mysterious fate brings a poignancy to bear that most children's novels don't attempt.
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Comics I've Read Recently, April 17, 2017














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Recently Read: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis


The Silver Chair is an epic tale that stands in good comparison with C.S. Lewis' other Narnia books. Eustace Scrubb (from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and a bullied classmate, Jill Pole, are sent on a mission by Aslan to find Prince Caspian's son, Rilian, held under the spell of a snake-like witch.

Their journey introduces them to a classic and hilarious character, the gloomy Marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, brings them to a creepy castle of giants, and then to an vividly described underworld kingdom, where a revolutionary plot is being put forth in motion on a grand scale.

To tell more would be to tell too much. Best that Lewis himself entertain you with it.

A side note: I'm continually and alternately amused and a bit saddened by the jabs and criticism of the Narnia books by younger readers who see threatening un-PC ideologies at work in the books. One review I just read said: "The writing style of the book continues to stink of the date of its publication". I can only say in response A) in the course of human history, a book written in 1953 was written practically yesterday. Blame the author if you must, but don't blame the date of its publication. B) Writer H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Similarly, hyper-sensitive reviews of Narnia lead me to think some readers have the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may think differently than they do. Getting used to the idea of diversity, though, is an essential part of maturation.
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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Recently Read: The Secret History of Marvel Comics


Blake Bell and Dr. Michael Vassallo's exhaustively researched and meticulously compiled record of the transition between Martin Goodman's publishing of pulp magazines and what were (for all intents and purposes) the earliest Marvel comics makes for fascinating reading and is an important document.

For those like me interested in the history of 20th century magazine publishing, pulp magazines and the earliest comic books, The Secret History of Marvel Comics is pure gold. It details the complex and convoluted relationships between the earliest publishers of what became DC Comics, Archie Comics and Marvel, and breaks down Goodman's cynical but effective business strategies publishing books and magazines of all stripes, of which comics were only a part.

Goodman's lack of interest, bordering on contempt, of most of his creative teams had echoes which still reverberate today (such as in the Jack Kirby heir's recent legal battle with Disney over Kirby's creations for Marvel).

Half the book is given over to illustrations drawn by Goodman's employees for his pulp magazines, including much work by Kirby, Joe Simon, Alex Schomburg, Bill Everett, Syd Shores and many more.

A few anecdotes and facts are given too many times, and I wish the book had given more information on Goodman's later days (especially his involvement in the '70s Atlas comics). I understand that, given the title of the book, that was probably out of the scope of the project. And yet, how many books are written about Martin Goodman? This would have been a perfect opportunity for that.
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Recently Read: Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks


Nearly all of the great Jack Kirby's Kamandi No. 1, Omac No. 1 and The Demon No. 1 are reproduced in a coffee table-sized hardbound book, with Kirby's pencils on the left-hand page and Mike Royer's crisp and faithful inks on the right. This gift of a book will create or renew your respect and astonishment at the artistry of both these cartoonists.

This collection makes especially clear how adeptly Royer created Kirby's suggested sound effects, as they careen and splash across the dense b&w art. This is work for the ages and will be studied long into the future, if for no other reason that Kirby created so much of the comic book characters thrilling five-year-olds now every day.

There's one image I can't stop looking at: a micro close-up, blown up huge for the end-papers, of the torn original cover pencil drawing for The Demon #1. Though drawn when Kirby was 55 years old, it has the rough-hewn, carved and explosive look of drawings Kirby made on cheap paper sitting in his kitchen in Lower East Side of Manhattan in the '20s.
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Friday, April 14, 2017

The Human Torch, from the first Marvel comic, Marvel Comics #1, August, 1939.


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Recreated: a Workable B&W Little Dot Logo


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