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Loot part 2: books and CDs

2011 December 30

Continuing a round-up of my media acquisitions from Christmas 2011, let’s move on to the big pile of books:

Lots of books

Sherlock, spies, comics and runes

Starting at left: The Rune Poem, about which I wrote earlier this year. This is a good example of a book that I like having, for my own, as a book; I think it will be great to just pull off the shelf and muse on once in a while. Or even just seeing it there on the shelf, and being reminded of it.

Next over, The Tailor of Panama, by John LeCarré. In this case I think the design beats the content, possibly, if by a narrow margin. And I write this as a LeCarré fan, but that’s one knockout of a cover design. Lively, sharp, jaunty; the irony is delicious. Moreover, though, while The Tailor of Panama was a good book, in the years since I first read it I’ve noticed that it and basically all of LeCarré’s post-Smiley works seem kind of interchangeable, at any rate when it comes to the protagonist. Same moral, and general, shabbiness, same marital awkwardness and passionate but seedy affairs, same reflexive dissimulation and lack of conviction. And while the individual stories are always good, after four or five of them it begins to seem a bit repetitive.

Next, the big one in various ways: Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier. Overall, I would rate this a firm “awesome.” The design is just about at tour-de-force level, energetic but always professional, probably appropriately given the subject. The writing is, unsurprisingly, very enjoyable. I read through it all over the course of a few hours on Christmas Day.

The only criticism I can really make of King of Comics is that I wanted much more, and it’s certainly arguable whether or not this is really a criticism. Basically, the book seems like a lively but fairly swift overview of Kirby’s career, rather than a full biography of his life. It was also a bit on the downer side, I think, though this I suppose is open to argument as a criticism also. Basically, reading King of Comics, it seems like Kirby’s career was really one shafting after another. Frankly, I do find myself a bit more sympathetic to those who feel deeply aggrieved on the guy’s behalf; when, toward the end of the book, Kirby moves into animation, I couldn’t help dreading the results, thinking “ugh, how is he going to get hosed this time?” (In fact, his involvement in animation proved to be one of the few unqualified successes of his career.) And yet, afterward, I have to wonder: is this really the picture we should take away of Jack Kirby? A lifelong, mostly vain, struggle to earn a fair return for honest work? That was certainly a big part of his life, but it seemed like there should have been a bit more about the passion, the creative thrill, which was obviously present in his work.

Anyway, moving on to another comics-related item, in this case a comics-form work about fictional comic creators instead of a prose work about a real one. The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, by Seth. This one, well, I’ll be honest. It definitely felt like “sketchbook” work, unlike its companion volume Wimbledon Green, which I found more than up to the standards of “finished” work. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the GNB Double-C. I did. But it lacks the dash and inventiveness of Wimbledon Green, or the real human depth of George Sprott, as well as any real main character at all. If one likes these other two works, this one is probably worth checking out, but I would not advise that anyone begin with it.

Rounding things up, two more additions to my Sherlock Holmes collection. One is the Unpublished Apocrypha, which I had from the library earlier this year. Interesting material, adequate design. The other is much newer, The House of Silk being published only this year I think. It’s the first Sherlock Holmes work “officially authorized” by the Doyle estate, for what that’s worth (though I’m not sure how the pastiches of Doyle’s own son and chosen literary executor could be anything but “estate-authorized”).

The design is nice, subtle but striking. The jacket has a nice velvety texture. The inside is simple, though entirely satisfying typography, except that the point size of the text is awfully large. Like, large-print edition large. I kind of suspect that they may have just wanted to pad out the page-count a bit, though of course none of the original Sherlock Holmes novels were very long so relative brevity would only be in keeping with tradition.

Beyond that, I’ve started the book, and it’s quite good so far. I particularly like the reminiscences of an elderly Watson who in this work, in contrast to many other Sherlock revivals, has outlived Holmes instead of the other way around.

May as well round things out with a few quick comments on CDs:

Wash U Clean, Quiet City, and Winter's Eve

Again, one of these things is not like the other

Okay, the two CDs on the right first: Copland’s Quiet City and Nox Arcana’s Winter’s Eve. I’ve only listened to Quiet City once, though I like it. The package design is okay but nothing stellar. I really like Winter’s Eve, as I go in for this kind of ethereal, otherworldly ambience. Though I confess that the faintly schlock-y fantasy illustration style they seem to prefer is less to my tastes; that’s okay, though, as I bought this primarily for audio content of course.

Beth Thornley’s Wash U Clean, on the other hand, wins on both counts. I love the design of this; it’s a cardboard folder rather than a jewel case but it works very well, it has a nice unusual texture (and really, why not take advantage of the opportunity for tactile sensations), and graphically it’s just gorgeous. Modern, smart, delightful. Which pretty much goes for the sound as well. Probably the best comment I can make on the tunes which make up Wash U Clean is that, if you like the idea of lively pop songs with lyrics like “someday they’ll find your bones, underneath my bed” then this is probably one for you.

2 Responses
  1. December 30, 2011

    RE: Kirby
    Evanier’s book is remarkable, to say the least. What I generally take away from Kirby, in general, is that he was an honest, dedicated man that did everything he could for his family. And he had this outpouring of creativity that came out with such intensity that he could barely focus, much less contain, it. In the 1930s, he directed it in the only way he could — comics. There simply weren’t realistically any other venues for someone like him until much later in his life, so he got shafted.

    I don’t recall if this anecdote is in Evanier’s book or not, but Kirby was a horrendously bad driver, and once almost ran over his son Neal when picking him up from school. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see or didn’t know how to control a car, but his mind was just going in so many different directions at once — creating all manner of characters and stories in his head — that he couldn’t focus on anything else.

    I’m always fascinated in writing my Incidental Iconography column for Jack Kirby Collector how many new insights I continue to get about the man in studying just his character designs.

    In theory, Evanier is working on ANOTHER biography of Kirby that’s more in-depth and gets more into the full life of The King. He’s suggested in the past that it’ll be at least two or three times the size of the existing book.

    • Matt permalink
      December 30, 2011

      King of Comics mentions that Jack was a terrible driver, and that after an unspecified incident Jack just turned over driving to Roz. That specific incident you mention wasn’t described, but that might well have been “the” one.

      re: the longer biography, yeah I recall hearing about that when King of Comics was first released, though nothing since; after reading the existing biography I could see why Evanier would have been planning a second, longer work. I sure hope it still happens; as noted I’m definitely hungry for more and I’m not sure there will ever be anyone more qualified than Evanier to write the “standard” biography of Jack Kirby.

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