Monday, February 26, 2018

The Best of Bijou Funnies / The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics

The Best of Bijou Funnies / The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics
edited by Jay Lynch, Don Donahue, and Susan Goodrick
Quick Fox, 1981

At the time of its publication in 1981, this unusually formatted trade paperback - a dos a dos binding similar to that used for the famous 'Ace Doubles' sci-fi paperbacks - from Quick Fox books was one of the few graphic novels that featured underground comix. 

Indeed, back then, when even mainstream comics were just starting to get a foothold in the graphic novel format, the idea of showcasing underground comix from the 70s in a trade paperback format would have seemed an adventurous foray into the book market.

It's a melding of two separate volumes first published in 1974 (Apex) and 1975 (Bijou).

The Bijou section leads off with a concise history, illustrated by vintage photographs, of the profiled artists before segueing into strips- most of them one- to several- pages in length -  from Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, Justin Green, Rory Hayes, Skip Williamson, and other major comix figures.

The Apex section is organized differently, as the content is divided into separate chapters by artist. Robert Crumb, Art Speigelman, Gilbert Shelton, Bill Griffith, and Kim Deitch are among the profiled artists.

As with any anthology of this type, an argument could be made over the selection of the material. Personally, I found that the volume as a whole could have done with less content from Jay Lynch - his 'Nard and Pat' strips really weren't all that memorable. Bobby London's satirical treatments of Disney comics, and his pastiches of George Herrimann's Krazy Kat comics from the the first half of the 20th century, also haven't aged that well.

That said, some of the material in this compilation is well worthwhile. The entries from Crumb, Green, and Shelton remain entertaining. It's also nice to see some of the less productive and less well-known artists of the underground era, like Jim Osborne and Rory Hayes, represented.

Additional worthy material comprises Spain's Lovecraftian horror, Trashman, and political comix:

Summing up, with these kinds of 'all-star' graphic novel anthologies of underground comix still somewhat rare, if you happen to see a copy of 'The Best of Bijou Funnies / The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics' on the shelf and it's reasonably priced, it just might be worth picking up.

I'm going to close with a classic 'Mr Natural' strip from the book...........enjoy !

Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: The War in 2020

Book Review: 'The War in 2020'
by Ralph Peters

3 / 5 Stars

‘The War in 2020’ first was published in hardback in 1991; this Pocket Books mass market paperback (607 pp) was published in January 1992.

I remember reading the paperback version when it first came out, and thinking that its scenario was quite reasonable for the times; how does the novel fare when re-read some 26 years later, just two years away from 2020 ?

The framework of the novel posits that, in 2020, the United States and the West are economically, politically, and militarily weakened from decades of combatting various Small Wars instigated by a resurgent Japan. As the novel opens, Japan, protected by an impregnable ‘Star Wars’ space defense system, is casting a covetous eye on the mineral wealth of Siberia. 

Rather than risk their own military in any adventurism, the Japanese have carefully co-opted the Iranians, the Arabs, and Central Asian states into forming an Islamic Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is simple: expel Russia from its Asian territories, preferably with as much bloodshed as possible. Once the Russians are eliminated, then all of the territory of the Soviet Union east of the Ural Mountains will be open to Japanese exploitation.

Author Peters’s central premise is that by 2020, Russia has continued the downward slide begun in the early 1990s, becoming an Orwellian nightmare of poverty and decay. The outgunned and outnumbered Russian ground forces still surviving in Central Asia are fighting a valiant, but ultimately hopeless, delaying action against this Muslim Coalition.

Despite the poor prognosis for Russia’s survival, the United States has decided to break with decades of hostility and suspicion towards its former rival in order to provide aid, in the form of the Seventh Cavalry and its new ‘wonder weapon’, the M-100 model tilt-rotor attack aircraft. Secreted in an abandoned factory complex in Omsk, the Seventh prepares for a massive surprise attack on the encroaching ground forces of the Muslim Coalition - and their Japanese advisors.

For Colonel George Taylor, commanding the Seventh, the forthcoming assault is not just an effort by the US to prop up Russia and prevent complete Japanese hegemony over global resources. It’s a chance for revenge: payback against his earlier defeat at the hands of Japanese proxies in southern Africa.

But as the Seventh goes into action, Taylor and his troops will discover that surprise attacks can be a two-way street……….and the loyalties of politicians and allies easily can be switched……….

Upon a second reading, ‘The War in 2020’ came across a mixed success. The combat sequences are the best thing about the novel: well-written, suspenseful, and with an authenticity superior to that of most techno-thriller novels. The depiction of the near-future World is a reasonable extrapolation from the state of affairs in 1991, and the military technologies outlined in the novel are not so far-fetched that they give the book a contrived atmosphere. Authors Peters, who is a former US Army Foreign Area Officer, is quite accurate with some of his geopolitical predictions, particularly those involving Islamic fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, author Peters intersperses his combat sequences with an equivalent number of lengthy ‘character development’ segments. These segments are overwritten, filled with metaphorical, often poetic language that is incongruous in a technothriller. The presence of these characterization segments routinely leeches momentum from the narrative; in fact, the Seventh Cavalry doesn’t fire a shot until page 341 out of 607: more than halfway through the book........... !

Summing up, ‘The War in 2020’ is a 600+ page novel with content divided equally between the genres of melodrama and technothriller. Make sure you have the patience for this type of construct before tackling this book.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Jive Glossary

celebrating Black History Month 2018

The Jive Glossary
from Can You Dig It ? The 70s Soul Experience
Rhino Records Boxed CD set, October 2001

Back in the early 2000s, when Napster was just starting to gain traction and the idea of listening to - and trading - in digital music files hadn't yet become a phenomenon, it was not unusual for companies like Rhino Records to release elaborately packaged boxed sets of CDs containing compilations of singles from all types of musical genres.

In October 2001 Rhino released a six-CD boxed set titled Can You DIg It ? The 70s Soul Experience that featured a variety of songs that made it into the Billboard R & B charts during the interval from 1970 - 1977.

The nicely produced booklet included in the boxed set contained a two-page 'Jive Glossary' of 70s Black slang (to help Caucasian listeners, in particular, to get in the groove in a proper way). 

Some of the definitions are laugh-out-loud funny. I've posted scans of the Glossary below; clicking to maximum magnification should make these legible on a PC screen (less so on a smartphone screen...........? ).  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Rook: Hickey and the Pirates

The Rook in: 'Hickey and the Pirates'
Story by Bill Dubay, art by Jose Ortiz
from Eerie 99 (February 1979)

'Hickey and the Pirates', a Rook episode from Eerie No. 99, published in 1979, features some excellent ink-and-wash artwork from Spanish artist Jose Ortiz. Ortiz's full-page depiction of a battle at sea between Chinese junks is certainly a highlight, and something that you likely won't see in any contemporary comic books.

Bill DuBay's script is as wordy, as usual; with this episode, there is more of an emphasis on sarcastic humor, showcased mainly by the irascible Bishop Dane, the Rook's great-great grandfather. 

Some of this humor would not pass the censors in any contemporary comic book. It's also likely that were it to be published today, 'Hickey and the Pirates' would spur charges of racism as well as homophobia.

But read the episode for yourself and make your own judgments...............

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Divine and John Waters, 1970s

Divine and John Waters, 1970s
Divine (Glenn Harris Milstead) (left) and John Waters (right), sometime in the 1970s. Photograph by Christopher Makos

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: Dune Messiah

Book Review: 'Dune Messiah' by Frank Herbert

1 / 5 Stars

‘Dune Messiah’ first was serialized in Galaxy magazine in 1969; the hardcover version was released in that same year. This Berkley Books mass market paperback version (256 pp) was published in June, 1970, and features cover art by Jack Gaughan.

‘Dune Messiah’ is set 12 years after the events in Dune. The novel takes place entirely on Arrakis (i.e., planet Dune), in the capital city of Arrakeen, where Paul Atreides rules the galaxy from his massive, well-fortified palace. Atreides is assisted by a number of supporting characters from Dune, including his younger sister Alia, his wife Chani, the Fremen leader Stilgar, and Princess Irulan.

As the novel opens, Atreides finds himself deeply troubled by the massive loss of life, and political turmoil, inflicted on the galaxy by the jihad being carried out in his name by the Fremen. The jihad has grown to the point where Atreides can no longer control it, and threatens to plunge the galaxy into chaos. Atreides remains cursed – or blessed - with a prescience that lets him determine the most likely of a seemingly infinite number of possible futures, but none of the choices open to him for halting the jihad are benign – all come with the risk of sending the galaxy even further into barbarism.

Chafing under the rule of the jihadis, a group of conspirators - all of them traditional enemies of the Fremen and the Atreides dynasty - have set into motion a plan to remove Paul from the throne, and end the rule of House Atreides. The plot’s success hinges on infiltrating a clone of Duncan Idaho, Paul’s combat instructor who was killed by Harkonnen forces in Dune, into the Atreides household. Once the clone has ingratiated itself into Paul's confidences, it will be triggered by an embedded subliminal command to betray Atreides and his sister Alia.

Paul Atreides is aware of the plot against his life, but is restrained by the knowledge that acting too precipitously against the conspirators could have dire consequences for the future of his household, and Arrakis and its people. Thus, he is forced to employ subtle counters to the machinations of the conspirators, waiting for the crucial moment when all possible outcomes coalesce into one single moment of action and reaction…….a moment that will change forever the fate of the galaxy………..

I found ‘Dune Messiah’ to be a disappointment. Like many of Herbert’s novels, the narrative is relentlessly constructed around lengthy exchanges of dialogue; even more so than in Dune, these are overburdened with figurative, metaphorical prose designed to evoke a Zen-like sensibility (indeed, the cloned Duncan Idaho refers to himself as a ‘Zensunni’ adept). Herbert’s continuous onslaught of koans, and passages showcasing Paul Atreides’s existential angst, gives 'Dune Messiah' a plodding, obtuse quality throughout its comparatively short length. 

The few action sequences begrudgingly doled out to the reader are well-written, but also too few, and too far between, to impart needed momentum to the narrative.

[I won’t disclose any spoilers regarding the denouement, save to say that I found it rather predictable.]

Summing up, reading ‘Dune Messiah’ left me underwhelmed, and in no hurry to tackle the next volume in the series, ‘Children of Dune’. If you are a dedicated Herbert and Dune fan then maybe your point of view will be different, but I can’t endorse ‘Dune Messiah’ as a must-have.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

more Books from Britain

more Books from Britain

An eclectic mix of titles from a recent order from the UK: two horror potboilers from Laurence James; a rather obscure fantasy novel from Simon Majors; a disaster novel involving the flooding of London; horror novels from Bernard King and Whitley Strieber; the very first entry (1966) in the Pan Books horror stories anthology; and finally, a sci-fi title from Terry Greenhough.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Book Review: The Hunters

Book Review: 'The Hunters' by Jack Lovejoy
4 / 5 Stars

'The Hunters' (256 pp) was published by Tor Books in February 1982. The cover art is by Thomas Kidd.

Jack Lovejoy (1937 - 2014) published a number of sf and fantasy novels during the 1980s; the best-known of these is the so-called 'Vision of Beasts' trilogy, also published by Tor Books.

'The Hunters' is set several centuries into the future, after the Earth has been subjugated by a race of mysterious, omnipotent aliens. The remnants of mankind live in scattered settlements, lying low during the daytime, and moving about with care lest they be spotted by the enormous spaceships of the aliens patrolling the skies. What little is known about the aliens suggests that they have turned the planet into one giant hunting ground, stocked with all manner of exotic creatures, including dinosaurs. To the Hunters, as the aliens are called, mankind is little more than vermin. 

Thelon, the young man who is the central character in the novel, lives in a settlement near the eponymous river in Northwestern Canada. As 'The Hunters' opens, he comes into possession of a diary, written long ago by a man who survived the invasion and went on to create the encampment where Thelon lives. The contents of the diary awaken in Thelon a desire to leave the confines of the settlement, to discover if any other human tribes survive - and whether their inhabitants have any information about how to defeat the Hunters.

Toting his bow and arrow and knife, and wearing a camouflaged tunic, Thelon sets out on foot for the territory once known as the United States. His journey will set him against alien monsters, dangerous bands of feral Wildmen, and ultimately, a confrontation with the Hunters themselves................

'The Hunters' is at heart an 'old school' sci-fi adventure novel. The plot is simple, straightforward, and devoid of artifice. Author Lovejoy has the ability to properly pace his narrative, delivering action sequences, and revelations about the world under the heels of the Hunters, at well-timed intervals. The only complaint I had about the novel was the often stilted nature of the dialogue, and the rather rushed, rather contrived nature of the final chapters. 

But all things considered, if you're looking for a quick, engaging read, then 'The Hunters' delivers. In fact, I'd categorize it as one of the more entertaining sf novels of the 80s. Used copies can be had for affordable prices, so this one is well worth picking up.