Thursday, July 30, 2009

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, Adapted & Illustrated By Darwyn Cooke

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, Adapted & Illustrated By Darwyn Cooke (A) is one of the tastiest morsels of comic book confection to sit on my bedside table in a long, long time.
The Hunter (A) has been adapted into a movie twice: in 1967 by John Boorman and Lee Marvin (i), and in 1999 by Mel Gibson and Brian Helgeland (i). The latter is quickly taken over with Gibson’s bug-eyed antics, while Marvin’s performance (despite being somewhat uneven and occasionally overwhelmed by Boorman’s momentary fascination with the French New Wave) falls closer to what Donald Westlake laid down when he wrote as “Stark.” Now it has been adapted into a comic book* by Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke brings a whole lotta luscious luuuuv to the table. He renders the characters in bold strokes reminiscent of early Harvey Kurtzman (w) and moves the story in a smooth sequential flow that brings to mind Will Eisner (w), when he was at his unselfconscious best. Cooke is also resolutely faithful to the text, lifting not just dialogue but entire passages straight from the book. This is not, however, a text-heavy work: Cooke’s use of the silent panel is adroit and entirely beguiling in the best “A Picture Is Worth” tradition.

Cooke has a retro-stylistic savoir faire that won’t ever be confused with the rancid, sweaty, nicotine-stained prose that “Stark” employed — but that’s a good thing, as it makes this book a delicious pleasure unto itself. Highly recommended, not just for Parker fans, but for anyone who enjoys comic art at its pulpy, impish best.

*Quibblers who would rather call this a “graphic novel” should meditate a little longer on what Art Spiegelman has to say on the matter.

Link Love: Darwyn Cooke's blog; IDW's page; Michael Blowhard links to some Westlake love, including his own, here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nerman's Books & Collectibles, Winnipeg

I first learned how to think strategically when my family ate holiday dinners at my grandparents' house. After cleaning my plate to spec, I could usually be excused early from the table so that the adults could converse without my petulant interruptions. What to do next, however, required some consideration.

The television room beckoned, of course. My grandparents had a large cabinet color TV, and so long as there wasn't a popular sporting event like the Grey Cup being broadcast my watching would probably be unsupervised for the next hour or two. But with only three channels to choose from, and holiday programming being notoriously tedious, this option held little appeal. Besides, nothing was more likely to motivate my mother to draft me into dish-washing duty than the sound of the television being turned on.

The sounder strategy was to disappear into the basement. An enormous box of my uncle's comics and MAD Magazines were stashed in a closet down there. And once I'd tired of that, there were countless treasures to be discovered with just a little detective work: toys my father owned, books from another era inexplicably stashed beneath the workbench, even the occasional horde of pure pulp gold.

Nerman's Books & Collectibles (h) is like my grandparents' basement, with a vengeance.

I visited it with a friend, who was instantly drawn to this Lone Ranger six-string:

If you must have respectable reading, it can be found here. But Nerman's is chiefly about the pulp.

It's also about vintage children's books, whether we're talking Uncle Wiggily, Big Little Books (of every era, just behind the guitar) or Choose Your Own Adventure. I bought this Man From U.N.C.L.E. Title, and an old Leigh Brackett two-fer, both of which I shall promptly stow away for visits from future nosy grandkids (not necessarily my own):

So far as I know, the six-string is still there. If you want it, go now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Whisky Diet

I have reached that point in life (a few years back, actually) where some changes to my diet are called for. My sawbones hasn't made an issue of it -- she's gaining faster than I am, actually -- but my denials to the scale and mirror ring increasingly hollow. So, during my last bookstore visit, I wandered over to the nutrition shelf. A couple of thoughts:

1) So many choices! Or ... ? Five meals a day? Three meals, plus two snacks? Rice and fish? Just rice? Just fish? Pay attention to the glyceymic index, or ignore it and just eat yer meat? How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?

There are all sorts of "revolutionary" diets, of course, but this approach strike me as counter-intuitive. First of all, my temperament is revolution-averse. Secondly, most of my food is already prepared by my own hand, so I know what's going into me, and what I ought to cut back on. I like my wheat (bread, pasta) a little too much, and I'm at the age where "alcohol in moderation" (not always my strong suit, as you might have guessed) could stand to be moderated even further. Brown rice, fresh produce, legumes are already present and accounted for (my background is Diet For A Small Planet, or, more accurately, More With Less). A little more water, a little more meat and I'd probably be doing what I should. So no radical, unsustainable changes, in other words.

2) What's with all the books?! Is there any diet in the world that can't be summed up in a page or two? As for recipes, I can personally vouch that I am unlikely to adopt any more than two or three in a given book. That's right: two or three. Fifty pages of kamut and peanut-butter recipes are worse than useless: they're a waste of the writer's and my time.

So place your bets now and ask me in six months if I've shed so much as an ounce. I promise I'll tell the truth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

WP, The Anti-Tweet

Our family will be wrapping up the yearly Manitoba visit in another day or so. These visits tend to reignite my ambitious side, but with regards to this blog much of what I've been mulling over is almost (*sigh*) "tweetable." To wit:

The Aspirational Qualities of Bookstores: As independents are sliding into the tar-pits, I'm noticing how the power of persuasion works at me when I enter a given shop. F'rinstance, a visit to Nerman's Books & Collectibles (to be blogged-upon) generates an armload of schmutz; a visit to McNally-Robinson prompts me to purchase copies of L'Etranger (A) and Man's Search For Meaning (A), to replace (or, more accurately, supplement) the well-thumbed copies at home.

Vacational Reading: The Best Of Intentions I know some people who get a lot of reading done during their vacations. Not me. I usually take a half-dozen books with me, but I'm lucky if I finish so much as a sidebar in Entertainment Weekly. Reading requires some privacy and downtime, while family vacations require attendance and socializing. This is why I will not be among the Infinite Summer participants, even though its siren song of instant-hipster status is difficult to resist.

More anon, when the aging eagle has landed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pages on Queen Street

"I guess Queen Street West is officially dead now" -- Rock 'n' Roll singer/published author Dave Bidini on the closing of Pages bookstore.

Bidini's perspective is entirely subjective, but I happen to agree with it. I was introduced to Queen Street West in 1983, as Toronto's punk/new wave scene was coming to a close. Back then the strip hosted record stores, vintage clothing stores, head-shops and "art galleries" that didn't often make the first month's rent. It seemed like every obscure nook was host to a used bookstore -- I could walk up and down QSW and never exhaust its literary troves.

Then there were the spiffy retail bookstores: Bakka Books, the first exclusively sci-fi bookstore I'd ever seen; The Silver Snail (comics); and Pages. Only The Silver Snail remains in its original location. If the stock is any indication, toys ("collectibles") now make up the bulk of its sales.

The strip has really "cleaned up" in the last quarter-century. The used bookstores are almost all gone, as are the record stores. There are still some vintage clothing shops, but mostly QSW hosts the sort of brand stores you'll find in any large mall. As a consumer, I now have one less reason for making the trip to downtown Toronto. So it goes -- once a locale becomes commercially viable, big commerce jumps in. The interesting neighborhoods move. But independent bookstores as a species are disappearing, and I have to wonder how that's changing the social-commercial discourse.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Spirituality by Carl McColman

Whenever I've engaged someone in The Talking Cure, it's usually been a person with a religious background not too dissimilar from my own. If I'm expected to broach vulnerable subject matter, religious discussion is inevitable, and most of the ground rules take far too long to explain to the uninitiated. More to the point, I finally have difficulty placing the necessary trust in someone who stands completely outside my experience.

My last go-round with a religiously observant counselor, however, raised some unanticipated difficulties. We started by unpacking the train case: a small-town boy moves to big city to even smaller town; the gender role reversal; the religious background — the present religious conviction — perhaps a few issues with . . . . Wup: we had to stop, back up and unpack “religion” for a few minutes, possibly dipping into the steamer trunk. After a few minutes' discussion, my would-be shrink's bottom line on the issue was, “It's about your relationship with God.”

I knew immediately this was our final conversation. It wasn't that I disagreed with the sentiment: I had trouble with the voice — the tonality — in which it was expressed. Had I wished to go further with this person, my responding tonality would have been, roughly, “That is a subjective sentiment posing as an objectively secure dogma. So long as this (my perspective) doesn't threaten to derail our conversation, we can continue.” My sense, however, was that I was now the guy who was standing outside.

Alright, let's cut to the review I agreed to do., a site I've occasionally found thought-provoking (although at the moment its culture content seems to have lapsed into “Is U2 cool, or what?” mode) is attempting to generate “viral blogging” (link) wherein a group of bloggers who have touched on Christian themes review books of a similar nature — purpose-driven blogging, you might say. Since the talking cure wasn't getting me anywhere, I figured I'd gamble someone else's stamp and give this a go. I had four titles to choose from. Carl McColman's Spirituality: A Postmodern & Interfaith Approach To Cultivating A Relationship With God (A) was the one I finally asked for.

Upon receiving the book, my first temptation was to review and critique the subtitle (which in one deft summary raises every single one of my intellectual hackles) and leave it at that. But McColman, who in his introduction claims to have been inspired while listening to the music of evo-bio enthusiast Brian Eno, went through a hell of a lot of work to cable-knit a world-view that might, in turn, regenerate a little cerebral warmth which might, in turn, generate a “deeper spirituality.”

Argh. Already with the scare-quotes. Suffice it to say I found the bulk of McColman's intellectual argument, which is generated largely from etymological riffage, to be unpersuasive. Yet 200 pages later, in spite of all my internal kvetching (or "kicking against the goads" if you prefer), I found myself in complete agreement with his final chapter, "Cultivating The Practice," which summarizes in 12 concise suggestions the author's idea of how best to live a good life.*

The trouble with me as an audience is, I am more predisposed to allow rhetorical argument to dissuade me of fallacy than I am to have the method persuade me of a new, seemingly more enlightened tack. Perhaps that's just the Rortyan in me. I also think stories are more fecund and persuasive material. McColman, who claims a Protestant upbringing, followed by a Pagan change of heart, followed by a turning to Catholicism in later life, must surely have some interesting and even compelling stories to tell. I'm curious enough that I might just pick up his later work, The Aspiring Mystic (A) which he promotes as story-driven. In the meantime he and the "viral blogging" initiative are all about The Conversation, which I also endorse. Here is McColman's website. John Morehead is also generating some provocative discussion among some of the same groups of people: Christians, Mormons, Neo-Pagans, Wiccans — just about anyone, really. Morehead's blog is here.

And, if I've somehow persuaded you to make up your own mind about Spirituality, I encourage you to read it in tandem with Christine Wicker's Not In Kansas Anymore: Dark Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, and Other Things Your Neighbors Aren't Telling You (A) which is jam-packed with the sorts of stories I'm after, including Wicker's own. Just brace yourself for the dreams.

*McColman's Twelve Suggestions:

1. Pray or meditate daily
2. Engage in spiritual reading or study
3. Find an
anamchara (soul friend)
4. Join a healthy faith community
5. Cultivate beauty in your life
6. Engage in some sort of personal improvement program
7. Tithe
8. Honor some form of Sabbath
9. Relate charitably to those who are needy
10. Actively seek political solutions to complete the ministry of charity
11. Seek ways to interact with persons from other traditions
12. Maintain equilibrium and a sense of humor regarding your discipline

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Public Enemies: A Night Out With The Grown-Ups

Since Michael Mann moved from television to the silver screen, he has made a few excellent films, one which I consider a knock-out classic and several unsatisfactory movies which are, nevertheless, fascinating to watch. Public Enemies rests securely in the last camp; I'm glad I saw it, even though I wanted it to be so much more.

Johnny Depp's portrait of John Dillinger is a careful study of the sorts of farmland gangsters that still exist. He exercises a casual charm and assumes, often rightly, that everyone else is jealous of what he's getting away with. He's clever enough to be king of the world for almost a year, but too thick to realize when his singular strategy has ceased to work.

His dame, played by Marion Cotillard, sees through him but falls hard anyway. His nemesis, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) has a steely determination to get the job done, but purses his lips whenever doubts assail him. Billy Crudup's embodiment of J. Edgar Hoover is the real stand-out performance in this film. The man lives to dictate. He clips out orders and expectations, and when a greater authority steps in his way, he suppresses a deep, bellowing rage and shifts hard into manipulation mode. The camera's focus on Crudup's performance is casual and sly, glancing in the corners to suggest volumes (including, quite naturally, Hoover's homosexuality) while rarely becoming explicit.

The screenplay suggests that Dillinger and Purvis are lone wolves who command a dodgy sort of pack loyalty, but find themselves almost completely out of step with the larger forces they serve. Certainly Dillinger faces a moment of unwanted clarity when he is told outright that he's become too big a risk for the mob to associate with. But Purvis's interactions with Hoover do not communicate the same personal audacity. The stage is set for Purvis to be royally screwed by his boss, but it never happens.

Mann's concluding acts are almost always the weakest link. He works so hard to think differently about genre plot strictures — one of PE's biggest pleasures is watching law enforcement work without the communications technology the genre currently takes for granted; when Command isn't barking updates and orders directly into your cochlea you have to think on your feet, and Mann does a pleasingly brutal job of illustrating the benefits and hazards of this approach.

If Mann can't quite manage the final stunt of catching the audience emotionally off-guard as the final credits roll, no matter — there are other pleasures to savor. Mann's use of digital cameras is nearly a tutorial in what the technology now contributes to the movies. The texture of skin and cloth is brought out to high effect, and his use of natural light sources has established its own sense of heightened drama — call it digital noir, maybe. And I don't think there's anyone currently making movies with as brilliantly convincing gunfights, which this movie generously dishes out like so much fries and coleslaw.

Finally, I have to say that one of the things I really, really enjoyed last night was the audience. The median age was well over 30, and those who were younger shut up once the first reel got going — which you had to, if you were going to catch any of the dialog. For just over two hours I felt like I was a grown-up, sitting with other grown-ups and watching a grown-up bit of entertainment. When that happens, I don't care what they're charging at the wicket, or if the movie didn't quite make the measure of One Of The Greats.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire by Eels

I do believe Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire by Eels has settled into the position of the summertime disc. The qualifiers for that designation always catch me by surprise, and this year has been no exception.

I couldn't have identified Eels from fish bait before I hit "download" a month ago. Even if I'd known these guys had scored a significant song on each of the Shrek soundtracks I couldn't have said which they were (those discs belong to the girls and I try to avoid playing them nearly as often as the girls try to spin them). And while I usually zero in on a harder sound and lyrics that tickle the funny-bone, Hombre Lobo (mostly) eschews irony in favor of straightforward wooing, swinging from the horny to the heartfelt in equal measure.

There's a lot of testosterone here, to be sure, but no lack of brains. When the album is tallied up, I figure the singer of these songs to be the clever sort of chap who inadvertently generated the confused and wounded pretzels at the heart of Aimee Mann's songs. From this distance/at my age, that's a lot of fun to listen to (e, A).

Small quibble: I realize the industry is in profound disarray, and that 12 Songs was recorded with an intentional in-your-face-til-I'm-blurry effect, but PLEASE! Could we settle on an industry standard for file compression?!? I'm at the point where I'm using Audacity to tone it down. Especially for those of us who are still listening to files that go back to the late 80s, the variance from silence to noise is getting just a little crazy.