Friday, March 30, 2018

Robny the Tramp in 'Scrap'

Robny the Tramp
by Juan Boix
in Chatarra ('scrap')
In 1976 the Spanish artist Juan (also spelled as 'Joan') Boix (b. 1945) created what would be a series of comics about Robny the Tramp (Robny el Vagabundo). Robny was a writer who decided to take up life on the streets as a means of finding artistic inspiration and insights into the human condition. The initial episodes appeared in Spanish magazines such as Spirit and Senda del Comic.

In 1981 the Robny stories were compiled by Spanish publisher Ediciones de la Torre in issues 22 and 27 of its Papel Vivo ('Live Paper') comic book. A one-volume compilation of the Robny stories was published in 2011 by Dolmen.

Sadly, much of Boix's work, including Robny, has not been translated into English. Perhaps IDW, as it is now doing with the early work of Esteban Maroto, will issue Boix's comics in English in nicely produced hardbound editions.

In any event, whether you are fluent in Spanish or not, the artwork in this Robny strip, titled Chatarra ('Scrap'), is exceptional and can be understood regardless of your language skills.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mike Hinge and Lou Stathis

Mike Hinge and Lou Stathis

This photo was apparently taken at a sci-fi fan gathering sometime in the 1970s. 

Mike Hinge (left) (1931 - 2003) was a New Zealand-born artist who contributed some memorable artwork to Heavy Metal magazine in the 80s.

Lou Stathis (center) (1952 - 1997) wrote the 'rok' (i.e., rock) music column for Heavy Metal during the late 70s and early 80s.

I don't know who John Singer (right) is.....?

The photo is credited to Steve Stiles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Delores Taylor RIP

Delores Taylor, RIP
27 September 1932 - 23 March 2018

Delores Taylor on a press junket for Billy Jack, Minneapolis area, 1970s

Delores Taylor died recently at age 85. While she was best known for playing schoolteacher Jean Roberts opposite her husband Tom Laughlin (1931 - 2013) in the Billy Jack films, she played a significant role behind the camera in helping Laughlin produce the films.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: The Owl

Book Review: 'The Owl' by Robert Forward
2 / 5 Stars

The Owl (247 pp) was published by Pinnacle Books in August 1984; the cover artist is uncredited.

A sequel, titled The Owl: Scarlet Serenade was published in 1990.

The Owl is set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. The protagonist, Alexander L'Hiboux, suffers - if that's the right word - from 'insomnolence', the inability to sleep. This condition has led him to adopt the career of a vigilante for hire: The Owl. Throughout the L.A. underworld, the name of the Owl is enough to strike fear into the most vicious of criminals and evildoers, for the Owl doesn't rest until he has exacted vengeance.

The opening chapter of the novel is a textbook example of hard-boiled writing as the Owl copes with a mugger, resulting in a graphic depiction of gun violence and making clear to the reader that the Owl isn't one to be merciful to his enemies. Indeed, as the novel progresses, author Forward demonstrates that Alexander L'Hiboux is as psychotic in his zeal for vigilantism as the mental cases he encounters while wandering the late night streets of L.A.

Having set the tone in his initial chapters, author Forward then embarks on the main plot: a man named Paul Jackson has hired the Owl to find, and eliminate, the individual who maimed Jackson's 20 year-old daughter Lei with a blowtorch.

The appalling nature of this crime means that the Owl doesn't need much in the way of motivation to find the perpetrator. But nothing is as easy as it seems, and L'Hiboux soon finds himself targeted by a syndicate that has no qualms about snuffing out any vigilante who insists on sticking his nose into places where it doesn't belong..............  

Much like L. A. Morse's The Big Enchilada, the intensely hard-boiled nature of the author's prose style in The Owl will lead the reader to suspect that the narrative regularly crosses the line into parody, or even satire. 

This is particularly true of the second half of The Owl, and it's a real weakness as far as I was concerned: the Owl's escapades rapidly move from the realm of the private eye, to the realm of comic book superhero. I won't disclose any spoilers, but the shootouts with the bad guys and the resulting 'it was only a flesh wound, but it hurt like hell' contrivances had my eyes rolling.

It doesn't help matters that the obligatory four-page 'Explanation of Whodunnit' section in chapter 31 is so convoluted, and so dependent on lucky coincidences, that even after re-reading it several times, it remained incoherent.

The verdict ? Although it starts off very well, the latter half of the novel obliges the reader to willingly suspend belief........and then some. If you're willing to go that route then you may want to pick up The Owl. All others likely will want to pass.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Pastel City by Bruce Pennington

'The Pastel City' 
by Bruce Pennington
wraparound cover artwork for the 1971 New English Library paperback by M. John Harrison

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Cursed Earth chapters 1 and 2

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth
Chapters 1 and 2
by Pat Mills (script) and Mike McMahon (art)
2000 AD comics, May 1978

It's hard to believe that it was 40 years ago that 2000 AD comics began its first major story arc involving Judge Dredd: an epic, 25-chapter adventure titled The Cursed Earth. From Prog 61 (which had a cover date of 20 April 1978) to Prog 85 (7 October 1978), fans were treated to something entirely new and novel in the Judge Dredd universe.

At the time, no one in the US outside of a few dedicated fans of British comics even knew that The Cursed Earth was up and running, but it has since turned out to be one of the greatest comics of the 70s.

Printed in black and white and featuring Mike McMahon's distinctive artwork, which made up in its energy and dynamism for its lack of polish, The Cursed Earth combined sci-fi with violent action to fashion something quite unlike anything else appearing in English-language comics. 

The uniquely British sense of humor that permeated the comic gave it a nasty, satiric flavor that simply didn't exist in American comics of the same era. 

Showing the influence of contemporary English pop culture on the tenor of Judge Dredd, the second chapter introduced one of the most memorable characters in the 2000 AD lineup: the punk, and reprobate, 'Spikes Harvey Rotten'. 

As chapter 2 opens, Rotten is visiting a grammar school in order to tell the kids 'how terrible it is to be a lawbreaker', because, according to the confident warden of the Mega-Penitentiary that rehabilitated Rotten, 'we reform ninety-nine per cent of our prisoners here, you know.' Pat Mills's script takes this assertion and turns it into black comedy, as only Dredd can save the innocent from a looming bloodbath.

There are a number of compilations of the series that have been released over the years; the newest version, 2016's The Cursed Earth: Uncensored, features material that was deleted from early compilations for fear of trademark infringement litigation. 

Posted below are the first two chapters of The Cursed Earth

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: The Big Enchilada

Book Review: 'The Big Enchilda' by L. A. Morse

4 / 5 Stars

L. A. Morse wrote several crime and horror novels in the late 70s and early 80s. One of these novels, The Flesh Eaters, is out of print and difficult to find, but a very worthwhile read, according to a review at the Too Much Horror Fiction Blog.

In the early 1990s Morse also wrote a two-volume guide to low budget movies, Video Trash Treasures Vol. 1 and Vol. II. (the early 90s were still the glory days of the videocassette). 

'The Big Enchilada' (224 pp) was published by Avon Books in February 1982. A sequel, 'Sleaze', was published in 1985.

'Enchilada' is set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and features rough-and-tough private eye Sam Hunter. Hunter takes the kind of cases that lead him into the down and dirty streets of the city, which is fine with Hunter, who is never too busy to run from a confrontation either with thugs, or crooked cops. Hunter also is never hesitant about providing his more attractive female clients with additional 'services'........... 

As the novel opens, a six-foot-eight, 500 lb former wrestler and psychopath named Mountain bashes his way into Hunter's office and tosses the private eye against a wall, leaving with a threat: Stay Away from Domingo

Of course, Hunter can't ignore a challenge, so he sets out to discover who Domingo is, and why he needs to threaten the life of a low-rent private eye. But Hunter's investigation is complicated by the presence of several additional cases:

High-end housewife Clarissa Acker wants to know if her wayward husband Simon is involved in something shady.

Wealthy magnate George Lansing wants to know if his spoiled brat of a son has been kidnapped.

Mel Perdue is worried about his fifteen year-old daughter, who ran away to Hollywood........and vanished. 

As Hunter delves into the seedy underside of life in LA, he'll discover a thriving network of felons involved in porn, heroin, and murder........and more than a few of them are criminally insane...........

'The Big Enchilada' is an enjoyable read: fast-paced, with an intriguing cast of characters, all steeped in Southern California culture. Morse's depiction of Los Angeles in the summer, in all its stifling, polluted glory, makes the city a character in and of itself.

And Morse's writing style is so well calibrated for a hard-boiled novel that at times it reads more as a parody than as as an intentional effort at a noir composition:

The sun was starting to get low. This was always the hottest time, when the accumulated sweat of the day seemed to hang in the air and form an almost invisible haze. I didn't understand it, it used to be desert here, but it seemed to be getting increasingly humid. Put together, all the pools must add up to more inland water than the largest lake in the world, and the evaporated moisture couldn't get past the constant level of smog that hung at 2000 feet. This was getting to be a shitty place to live, and I'd go somewhere else if I thought there was any place better.

Morse imbues his action sequences with a crisp violence:

The other one moved at me. His eyes had the crazy gleam of the meth shooter. They showed sadistic pleasure. He rushed, the arm holding the knife straight out in front of him. I sidestepped, caught his wrist and slowly bent his arm back toward him. I covered his hand so that he could not let go of the knife, and as the blade moved closer to his head, the look in his eyes changed to terror. I let the knife blade rest on top of his ear for a second so that he would know what was going to happen. He started to scream as the blade cut into him, and as the ear was severed, warm blood gushed over my hand. He fell to his hands and knees, whimpering, and I brought my heel down hard on one of his hands, crushing it. I rotated my heel before lifting it.

The verdict ?  'The Big Enchilada' delivers as a hard-boiled crime novel; as an often laugh-out-loud satirical treatment of LA's crazier inhabitants; and as a pop-sociological study of the city in the early 80s. It's well worth picking up.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu

Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu
by Esteban Maroto
IDW, February 2018

'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' (80 pp) was published in hardcover by IDW in February 2018. 

This book compiles three black-and-white comics Maroto first drew in 1982 for a commission from Spanish publisher Editorial Brugera, who was producing a series of illustrated novels. 

Unfortunately, Editorial Brugera went out of business before the book was produced, and Maroto's artwork was never returned to him. In 1985 the comics appeared in the back pages of the Spanish children's magazine Capitan Trueno

But it was not until Moreno found some copies of the artwork among his personal items that he resolved to have the series republished as an 'official' production. So, this English-language edition of his work represents the version that Maroto has approved.  

'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' features Maroto's interpretation of three classic Lovecraft takes: 'The Nameless City', 'The Festival', and 'The Call of Cthulhu'. These are done in a 'European' style, which is to say, as illustrations accompanied by narrative text boxes; there are no speech balloons or sound effects.

Maroto is in top form for each of these stories. His artwork is a carefully crafted mix of ornate penmanship, combined with the imaginative approach to panel composition that characterizes the work of the great Spanish comic book artists of the Warren magazine era and its aftermath.

For example, Maroto's draftsmanship in the initial pages of 'The Festival' does an exceptional job of giving the story a uniquely 'existential' atmosphere, as the protagonist makes his way through the empty streets of a Rhode Island seacoast town in Winter:

'The Call of Cthulhu' necessarily calls for the artist to render otherwordly monsters and Maroto does an exceptional job here as well. 

I find Maroto's treatment of Lovecraft to be markedly superior to 'The Fall of Cthulhu' and 'Cthulhu Tales', the cartoony incarnations of the Mythos churned out by Boom. It's also a lot more approachable than the more recent, over-written treatments of the topic produced by Alan Moore ('Necronomicon', 'Providence').

Summing up, if you're a fan of the Spanish comic book artists of the Warren magazine era, a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, or just someone who appreciates good graphic art, then picking up 'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' is a worthy investment.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Seek the Fair Land

Book Review: 'Seek the Fair Land' by Walter Macken

4 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by reviewing or showcasing a fiction or nonfiction book that deals with Ireland and the Irish.

For St. Patrick’s Day 2018, we’re reviewing Seek the Fair Land, a historical novel by Walter Macken (1915 – 1967), an Irish novelist and playwright. His 1950 novel, Rain on the Wind, was a Literary Guild selection in the US and brought him renown. Macken wrote Seek the Fair Land (1959) as the first book in what was eventually a trilogy, including The Silent People (1962), set in Ireland during the Famine, and The Scorching Wind (1966), about the struggle for independence in the early 20th century. Macken died of a heart attack at age 51 (he was a heavy smoker).

This Pan Books paperback edition of Seek the Fair Land (300 pp.) was published in 1962. The cover artist is uncredited.

The novel's backstory is based on genuine historical events. Seek the Fair Land opens in September 1649, with the English army of Oliver Cromwell laying siege to the Irish city of Drogheda. Among the defenders is Dominick MacMahon, a young man with a family, and a reluctant soldier at best. When Cromwell’s army overwhelms the city’s defenders, and orders his troops to raze the city to the ground and slaughter its people, MacMahon manages to escape Drogheda with his family.

It quickly becomes apparent that Cromwell’s army seeks to convert the east of Ireland into a vassal state, and those Irishmen who do not submit are to be exterminated. Knowing that his only choice for survival is to make for Connacht province in the highlands of Western Ireland, the ‘Fair Land’ of the book’s title, MacMahon embarks on a perilous journey across the width of Ireland.

With all the roads watched by English soldiers, MacMahon is obliged to travel through the wilderness, seeking shelter among the swamps and forests and relying on wild game for sustenance. Every stranger must be regarded with suspicion, and to be caught in the open by English horsemen is to risk summary execution. Will MacMahon’s friendship with an insurgent fighter named Murdoc O’Flaherty give him the slim chance he needs to secure sanctuary in the Fair Land ?

Seek the Fair Land is one of the better historical novel’s I’ve read. Author Macken lived in Connacht province, and describes its mountains, lakes, and meadows with the attitude of a cinematographer. His prose is clear and direct, and the narrative moves at a very readable pace; indeed, it gives the novel a flavor more reminiscent of an adventure novel than a historical novel.

The lead character, Dominick MacMahon, is one of the ‘little people’ who serve as the protagonists in Macken’s novels. These are the salt-of-the-earth people who normally shy from danger and intrigue, but when faced with tribulation, routinely summon inner resources of courage and conviction to overcome the struggles that lay low seemingly stronger and more privileged personalities.

As the cover artwork indicates, Seek the Fair Land is not meant to be a happy book. The depredations of the English are conveyed in bleak episodes of murder and mayhem, episodes that must have seemed quite explicit back when the book first was published in 1959, and remain unsettling even to modern readers. To his credit, Macken introduces his political commentary in measured doses, usually through the medium of conversation and debate among his characters, and avoids devolving Seek the Fair Land into a diatribe.

Summing up, while I don’t read historical novels all that much, I can recommend Seek the Fair Land as one of the better entries in the genre. It has been reissued in paperback over the decades since its 1959 publication, and these are quite affordable, and available from your usual online sellers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Black Cross Part Two

Black Cross
written and illustrated by Chris Warner
Dark Horse comics, January 1988
Part Two