Month: October 2011

Read It: Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

If you like crime fiction and caper stories, I have a pair of graphic novels that are required reading for you.

Parker is a cold criminal who is nearly killed when his wife and partner turn on him for money. Parker then methodically goes about seeking revenge, which brings him in conflict with the mob. Author Donald Westlake created the character after walking over the George Washington Bridge, where he was struck by how the cold steel bridge responded to the gusting wind and speeding cars. That speed, solidity and tension was transformed by Westlake into Parker, who debuted in the 1962 crime thriller The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pseudonym). The book was a hit and kicked off a series of crime novels starring Parker. It also inspired a number of movie adaptations (Point Blank, Full Contact, and most recently Payback starring Mel Gibson) but Westlake never allowed the use of Parker’s names in those movies, perhaps a statement that he never felt they were authentic enough. In fact Westlake has never allowed any adaptation to use the Parker name until a recent series of graphic novels.

Starting in 2009, illustrator Darwyn Cooke has been releasing graphic novels with the full approval and cooperation of Donald Westlake and his estate. Sadly Westlake didn’t live long enough to see the release of the first book, but he collaborated with Cooke during its creation. The Hunter and The Outfit are both wonderful adaptations that use the medium of comics to really enhance the feeling of being in the early 1960s, and seeing this compelling yet dangerous man named Parker go to work. Cooke uses differing storytelling devices and stylistic changes to lay out the various capers. His skills at depicting this world make for a fully engrossing and cool read.

The original plan was to adapt four books but there has already been talk of expanding it to five. The third book is expected to be The Score, where Parker joins a group of criminals for an ambitious heist of an entire town. It’s scheduled for next summer from IDW Publishing.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke

Read It: Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt

Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt

Like yesterday’s Elmer, this is another story that might make you think twice about eating poultry. But this is played more for laughs, making for a very enjoyable light read with plenty of cleverness, and even a little heart-string tugging.

Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt is a very cute and silly story about a small group of eggs that make a run for freedom. After being purchased at the grocery story, the eggs decide to leave the refrigerator and live life to the fullest while the human of the house is away for the weekend. Unfortunately freedom isn’t easy. One falls in love. One begins to crack from the stress. One decides to become a ninja. Not everyone survives.

Bill Reed did a review back in 2007 where you can see some pages from the book.

This great comedy has a lot of absurd fun. You can buy a copy from publisher SLG Publishing.

Read It: Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

What if chickens suddenly gained the ability to think and speak as well as humans?

What starts out as a funny gag quickly becomes a very sobering look at human and animal rights, and a metaphor for race relations. It also gives a pretty compelling argument to stop eating chickens, although I don’t know if that was the intent.

Published by SLG Publishing, Elmer tells the story of one bitter chicken’s discovery of his father’s past, which reveals the history of how the world responded to talking chickens. Elmer is beautifully illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan, who proves himself to be just as skilled a writer. Things might end a little too pat for some but considering the journey the book takes, I can excuse it. The characters deserve it.

Alanguilan is a Filipino comic book artist who has done a lot of inking work for big corporate superheroes, so it’s really a delight to see him tackle something like this. He also runs The Philippine Comics Art Museum, which helps reveal the rich comics history in the country. And he’s quite active on YouTube, where he posts videos of himself drawing, telling jokes, and doing random things to the camera. (This silly video from January 2009 where he gives “hey baby” looks to the camera has nearly 4 million views!) Here’s a video montage of some of his artwork:

Read It: A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Click to buy at Barnes & Noble)

With Hurricane Irene still a fresh and costly memory for parts of the east coast, and Tropical Storm Lee recently hitting the Gulf Coast, it seems like a perfect time to revisit this excellent graphic novel by comics journalist Josh Neufeld, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (published by Pantheon Books).

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst storms this country has ever faced and much of the aftermath was felt in the city of New Orleans. Neufeld used comics to recount the experiences of five people who made it through the 2005 storm. The material was originally serialized in a slightly different form as a webcomic on SMITH Magazine‘s website in 2007 and 2008.

As you might expect, A.D. can be a tough read since it’s not exactly a feel-good romantic comedy. But Neufeld’s art style and use of colors, as well as his choices in when his narrative checks back in with each character, make it easier to take in. The book could’ve been much more brutal in depicting the nightmare that happened during and especially after Katrina. Instead it wisely focuses on the human experience, trying to neither sugar coat nor sensationalize.

While the hard cover appears to be out-of-print right now, the book is also recommended for high school and college courses. The publisher has a teacher’s guide available (thank you for the updated link, Josh). You can also find an excerpt of the teacher’s guide at GraphicNovelReporter.com.

For a glimpse at the making of the book, check out this segment from the discontinued Pulp Secret show:

Graphic Novels to Read for next week and a half

We’re heading back east for a much needed and long-overdue visit with family and friends. While our kitty and house-sitter hold down the fort, I’ve got a series of blogs on graphic novels I’ve been enjoying this year lined up to post while I’m away. I’m not super keen on doing reviews, but I want people to read comics and a good way to encourage people to do that is to recommend some awesome comics. If one person buys one graphic novel from these posts, I’ll be thrilled. If you do, or if you’ve already read what I’m blogging about, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. (Unfortunately the Friday Kitteh posts will be on hiatus for the next two Fridays.)

I’ll still be obsessively checking email and Facebook and the like, so feel free to drop me a line.

How to Make a Viral Hit on YouTube

This is a topic that gets discussed among my fellow Magic Meathands, mostly in the context of making our own original sketch comedy videos. Everyone wants to become the next YouTube sensation. Well, as Pandyland’s awesome comic explains, it’s not always easy.

Check out more Pandyland comics.

Friday is Brought to You By Sun Bathing Kitteh

Kitty porn is a dangerous thing.

REMINDER – Show tonight at the Westside Comedy Theater! Me and the Magic Meathands hit the stage at 8 PM. Tickets are $10. Tomorrow I’m at The Huntington Gardens for Drama After Dark: A Night of Macabre with Poe and Gorey, which runs 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM. (Bring a flashlight!)

Something for LA: Little Free Libraries

Little Free Library (click to learn How to Build Your Own for your community)

As Los Angeles area libraries struggle with increasingly limited budgets and shrinking business hours, a small library alternative is growing.

Little Free Libraries is a DIY movement of volunteers building or buying a small wooden bookcase, stocking it full of books and setting it up in their front lawn for their community. People can borrow, take or donate a book. No library card is needed. No late fees. No Dewey Decimal System. And best of all, they are always open and never subject to budget cuts.

So far the Little Free Library in Sacramento, run by Jef Spencer, is the only one in California. As the Sacramento Press reports, copies of popular books like Harry Potter and Twilight have been stocked, as well as magazines, children’s books, cookbooks and more. Spencer hand built the book case, which holds 30-40 books at a time. People have donated a large number of books, often anonymously. Through the Little Free Library, they get distributed back out into the community. From the Sacramento Press article:

Spencer said there is one little girl, about 7 or 8, who walks home from school with her parents. He said she will take a book and bring it back when she has read it.

Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s Free Community Libraries, the first Little Free Library was set up in Hudson, Wisconsin, by social entrepreneur Todd Bol in memory of his mother June A. Bol. That was over a year ago and already the project has grown to about 40 libraries across the country. Are you near one? If you’re interested in starting one, you can buy a Little Free Library bookcase, join the club’s network to get listed on their website and receive other perks, or simply build your own, if you’re that crafty.

Founders Bol and Rick Brooks also envision a network of Little Free Libraries in cities:

Local nonprofits, businesses and institutions have expressed an interest in supporting 10, 20 or more Little Libraries as part of their outreach efforts. Imagine a string of “Take a Book, Return a Book” Little Libraries every other mile on a metropolitan bike path, each with a different theme and great reading materials.

Sounds like a great idea! Naturally I’d love to see a graphic novel or comics themed Little Free Library. And note how they use comics for their How To instructions.

Turnstyle News features Secret Headquarters in new comics-themed series The Funnybook Business

Turnstyle spotlights hipster Silver Lake comic book store Secret Headquarters in a new NPR-style slideshow/audio series by Noah J. Nelson called The Funnybook Business.

I’m interested to see how the rest of Nelson’s series turns out. Turnstyle features often get picked up by NPR, The Huffington Post, Time and other larger outlets.

Funnies for Friday, Scaries for Saturday

Two shows this weekend!

This Friday the Magic Meathands return to the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica for an hour of made-up funnies. We’re on the stage at 8 PM. Each $10 ticket is good for the entire night, which means that you can also see The Waterbrains at 9 PM and Mission: IMPROVable at 10 PM. Oh! And by the way, the Magic Meathands are now blogging!

Then Saturday night, things turn creepy to get you ready for Halloween. Drama After Dark: A Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey is at The Huntington Gardens in San Marino from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM. I’m in one of the Edward Gorey pieces. We’re bringing 5 Gorey works to life. This year, we’re debuting 2 new pieces. Come on out with your flashlights and explore the grounds. (Although it looks like it’s sold out, so hopefully you already bought your tickets.)