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A TOUCH OF THIS AND A DASH OF THAT —

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While the New Year still qualifies as a new year, I figured it was time to return to this space with a roundup of random thoughts. Let’s get to it, shall we?

—–

Only a week ago as I type this, I learned of the passing of David Bowie at age sixty-nine. I came to his music rather late (as I do most things, I suppose) — in the 1980s, as Rykodisc was re-releasing his catalogue. Once I caught up with him I was wholeheartedly a fan. He struck me as having a restless creative spirit and the talent to make even unsuccessful experiments interesting. My good friend Howard Downs, who passed away in February of 2014, was a huge Bowie fan; while I don’t believe in such things, if I’m wrong, then I hope Howard was among those who were waiting to greet Bowie when he arrived at his next destination, wherever that might be.

—–

Another good friend of Howard’s and mine, artist Lee Weeks, is drawing a new regular series for DC Comics titled SUPERMAN: LOIS & CLARK. It looks spectacular, as most Weeks works do — it’s also mighty tough for me to wrap my head around its premise. You see, DC recently “rebooted” its comics line in a move labeled as “DC You,” and the current comics on the stands feature new “DC You” versions of all the familiar DC characters — Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and of course Superman himself. It’s a way to wipe clean the slate and give characters who are decades old a fresh start …

 

… Except the idea behind LOIS & CLARK is that the Superman and Lois of the previous DC Universe are still alive in the DC Youniverse. Not just alive, but married, with a nine-year-old son. So this universe is inhabited by two Supermen: the DC Youniverse Superman — who inhabits all the familiar DC titles like SUPERMAN, ACTION COMICS, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and so on — and the “old universe” Superman, who sports a beard, wears a black uniform with no cape, and performs super-feats on the QT, operating clandestinely so his presence on this DC You-Earth is undetected.

 

At first, the idea made my eyebrows rise as I thought, “Wow — the Batman and Superman of this new universe must be a lot dumber than the characters I knew! If someone was digging miles-long trenches in the ocean floor of their world, they’d have realized a superpowered force was operating clandestinely and have not stopped investigating until they got to the bottom of it.”

 

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize my disquiet ran deeper than that. The fact that LOIS & CLARK‘s Superman is a survivor of a world — an entire universe! — that was destroyed says to me that ultimately, he and his super-friends were failures. All those years — all those adventures — all those battles — all those stories in which they saved whole populations from either falling beneath the hands of cruel despots or from wholesale destruction — all of that derring-do was wasted effort. Battles won, but the war lost, because in the final accounting everything they fought for was washed away.

 

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this idea of “So, it was all for nothing” may be experienced by any number of long-time readers, at least subconsciously. The publishers are telling those of us of a certain age-/experience-group that the characters in whom we were so heavily invested have spent their penny, and all the good works we saw them perform in the comics that we read and re-read and re-read again were ultimately for naught. What makes it worse is that similar storylines have been published in years past: heroes finding themselves “trapped” in a new reality that is somehow “wrong,” then struggling hard to reinstate the “real world” — a goal they successfully accomplished.

 

Except this time they came up short. Their reality — the one we had embraced — is gone, and no matter how bright and shiny the new DC Youniverse may be, we long-time readers are left feeling more than a little bit … empty.

 

Could this be at least part of the reason sales reportedly have been lackluster for the “DC You” line? (And for Marvel Comics, as well, given their recent “All-New, All-Different” relaunch, which similarly wiped out the classic “Marvel Universe” and replaced it with a new paradigm in which, for example, the Fantastic Four has disbanded and the Thing is now palling around with the Guardians of the Galaxy.) There are probably any number of market forces at play, yet I’m inclined to believe this is at least one thread in the tapestry of declining sales.

 

Now, I have no dog in this fight — I wish both DC and Marvel all the success they can muster, and I hope my friend Lee is in for a long and distinguished run on SUPERMAN: LOIS & CLARK. But if you’re a comics reader of several years standing, and you’re feeling a sense of vague unease as you read the current output from The Big Two, it could be a little voice in the back of your brain is whispering, “So, it was all for nothing …?”

———-

Not that it took the sensation described above to cause my dissatisfaction with many superhero series to take root over a handful of years. The increasing level of bombast and the “event-driven” interlocking storylines have caused me, a subscriber to SF editor Lester del Rey’s wise adage (“In a story where anything can happen, who in the hell cares what does?”), to increasingly yawn. That works in concert with the element that has really pushed me away from many mainstream Big Two comics: the lack of the human element. The title heroes are so busy averting this Massive Menace and Saving All of Reality As We Know It to have a civilian life anymore — and to me, it was the civilian life that made the superhero’s existence interesting. Peter Parker and his friends were as interesting as Spider-Man and his battles with villains, and the ways the latter could complicate the former made for page-turning reading — Superman’s super-feats were given dimension because they were in such stark contrast to the life of Clark Kent. Those heroes with fully-rounded existences then provided further contrast to the heroes who are in action even when out of costume (I believe Steve Englehart would agree that Batman is always Batman, even when he’s playing the role of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne; Steve Rogers’s many attempts as a civilian life always fall short because it’s his destiny to be Captain America; is The Punisher ever going to put his feet up and watch an episode of “Mike and Molly”? I don’t think so …).

 

Having those contrasts used to be important — now everything at both Major Companies seems to have devolved until it’s one big Superhero Club, where masks only hang out with other masks, every hero knows every other hero’s secret identities and they all call one another by first names. Once it all becomes too familiar within the context of the meta-storyline, it becomes far, far less interesting to me. At one point I read an “Avengers” book where Jessica Jones, Luke Cage’s wife, learns Spider-Man is really Peter Parker. She wastes no time telling her assembled friends that she not only went to the same high school as skinny, thick-glasses-wearing, science-nerd Peter Parker, she secretly had a crush on him. This is where an editor should be stepping in and saying, “Cute idea — but a wrong idea. Nope, not going there.” Because ideas like that make it all too interlocked, all too convenient, all too inbred — and far, far less interesting from the reader’s perspective. Or at least, that’s the case from this reader’s perspective.

—————

Since I mentioned science fiction in passing above, and since he is a Grand Master of the form, I should also mention and highly recommend the latest story collection from author/gadfly Harlan Ellison, titled Can & Can’tankerous. Several of H.E.’s more recent short fictions are gathered between these two covers, with an Introduction/Afterword for each story, just the way we used to greedily devour them in those classic Ellisonian collections of the 1970s and ’80s.

 

But the collection includes single-page pauses between each story, as Mr. Ellison provides insight into the events leading up to and including his much-publicized 2014 stroke and health scare. This adds an extra layer of poignancy to the fiction, and helps make this an Important Ellison Collection.

 

I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Ellison in the late ’90s, when he appeared at a speaking engagement in Boston. It was not all that long after the death of my father — it may have even been the first “social event” I attended following that sad event. As I expected, he put on a terrific show: funny, opinionated, thought-provoking. I got to spend a very small amount of time chatting with him one-on-one afterwards and he was engaging and charming. I walked away with a little spring in my step for the first time since saying goodbye to my Dad.

 

I had the greater good fortune to interview Mr. Ellison by phone a handful of months ago. We discussed Science Fiction Grand Master Jack Williamson in support of our Library of American Comics reprinting of the Williamson/Lee Elias Sunday comics feature, Beyond Mars. Post-stroke, at age eighty-one, he still provided a lively interview, one that was highly useful in putting together the introductory text feature for that book.

 

Whether or not you have ever met the man, if you’re like me you’ll cherish his work once you’ve had a chance to read it. So I hope you’ll take my advice and seek out stories such as “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes,” the sublime “‘Repent, Harlequin,” Said the Ticktockman,” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” “The Deathbird,” “Mefisto in Onyx” … and the stories contained in Can & Can’tankerous.

———-

A memo to Boston’s John Henry, jotted down on the day media coverage touted the arrival of “Tessie,” a female mascot for the Boston Red Sox, one announced as being the sister of longtime mascot Wally, the Green Monster:

 

“I know you’re a highly successful commodities trader, and your ownership group has brought three world championships home to Fenway Park (many thanks for that, by the way), and you’ve committed to the community by purchasing and restoring local ownership to no less an institution than The Boston Globe. And yes, it’s a case of, here I am, a lowly scribe who writes about the history of comics publications and makes an occasional blog post in this space. But still– still —

 

“Your team has finished last in its division three of the past four seasons, your newspaper can’t be delivered into the hands of customers who have paid their hard-earned money in good faith to find a Globe on their doorstep every day, and you’re asking the public to get excited about ‘Tessie’?

 

“What’s wrong with this equation …?”

———-

It’s not that I’m anti-technology, really it isn’t. I just have zero desire to rush, lemming-like, to embrace the latest piece of gimcrackery that The Big Tech Companies are trying to foist off on us. As a result I own no cell phone, I have no presence on Facebook or Twitter, I have no interest in Pinterest, and I conduct my financial business in person or by mail (I get a bill, a write a cheque — simple!).

 

My quality of life has eroded, yes — but not for the reasons you might think. What’s made my life more difficult is the way so many have lapped up the “convenience” with which companies try to hornswoggle us.

 

For example — my wife and I recently did some business with a new bank. Very nice persons, thoroughly professional institution, they made things simple and easy and pleasant.

 

Until …

 

Did we want to get a document the bank would be issuing monthly sent to us electronically? No, I replied — we want it to come by mail.

 

I may have detected a slight frown at that response. The tone might have been just a bit icier when it was then suggested it’s more environmentally friendly if we deal electronically. After all, I was told, if my wife and I want a paper copy, we can always print it ourselves. My reply was pretty close to these words:

 

“OK, stop right there, because I ain’t buying. I work in publishing — the books I edit or write for alone are probably responsible for using several million pieces of high-end paper each year. As a result, I know enough about paper to know the forestry industry isn’t in a hurry to put itself out of business anytime soon.

 

“Furthermore, all of this increased electronic traffic requires electricity for it to operate, and increased demand means we’re burning more natural resources — like coal, for instance — that are less renewable and more damaging to the environment than paper ever was on its worst day.

 

“Finally, I have to be honest with you. What these requests always strike me as being is an effort to getting organizations like yours to push work off onto poor shlubs like me. Your bank has been in the business of issuing paper statements for generations — you’re fully set up to do so. I expect you to do so. Why do I want to waste one sheet of my own paper, one drop of my own printer-ink, and most importantly, one second of my precious time doing your work for you?”

 

Because they are very nice, very professional persons, they dropped the discussion right there — and we get our paper copy of the documents every month, reliable as clockwork. And I’m not doing one bit of the bank’s work, because I have my hands full just doing my own work, thank you.

 

The ways the tech revolution has eroded my quality of life goes beyond fighting with Big Institutions that want to wheedle and cajole me into saving them money.

 

My cable-TV remote promises to do all sorts of wonderful things for me — except work when I press a button a single time. I’m regularly pressing two or three times just to activate a certain feature, and I’m often waiting while that requesting signal goes out to the cable company’s home office in Philadelphia, then the activating signal comes back to me … or I’m seeing text flash onto my TV screen to tell me, “The function you have requested is currently not available. Please try again later” — blithely ignoring the fact that, if I wanted the function later, I’d be asking for it later. But I’m not. I’m asking for it now …

 

Thanks to cell phones, we now have a communication system where for the first time during my lifetime it’s become more difficult, not easier, to talk to others over long distances. Between cell phone microphones that are either so inferior or so poorly placed that the person I’m speaking with sounds like they’re talking into a soup can, and the instances when one end of the line sounds perfect while the other is crackling with static (necessitating the, “Can you hang up and I’ll call you right back?” ploy — which, even when it’s sincere and the gambit successfully clears the static, is a needless annoyance compared to, you know, phones that actually WORK THE WAY THEY ALWAYS USED TO WORK) and phone calls that abruptly end in mid-sentence because someone’s phone battery dies, or because there’s no tower in the vicinity through which someone is driving, or because someone walked into a different room and unthinkingly walked through the “dead spot” in their home. In a word — arrrghh!

 

I could continue to count the ways that creeping techno-embedding is like itching powder being rubbed into my skin (we haven’t even begun to discuss the tsunami of rude behavior that is now par for the course among a populace addicted to staring at its little phone screens as they beep and boop at them, like annoying Star Wars droids that fit in the palm of one’s hand) but by now you probably get the picture.

 

Certainly I know I’m part of an ever-shrinking minority, certainly I know the tech-genie isn’t headed back into his bottle anytime soon. But you can’t blame me for wishing otherwise.

———-

Thanks for stopping by and reading! If you’re a friend or a family member, feel free to give me a call to catch up on things …

 

… Provided your cell phone can hold its signal for the duration of a call, that is.

Written by cnwl1

January 22, 2016 at 2:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Note to My Five-Year-Old Nephew

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Hi, H-Man —

It’ll be decades before what follows will be of any use to you, and if you’re like me, before it’s of use you’ll understand it, but you won’t be able to appreciate it. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have it rattling around in the ol’ back-brain until you can benefit from it, so I thought it a good idea to jot this down now, in hopes you’ll someday read it and benefit in some small way from it.

#

Growing old, as your grandmother says, is not for sissies. While I’m not prepared to say I’m old, exactly, I’ve now reached the stage of “growing older” where I have absorbed these lessons …

[1] Stay Active. Don’t be the quintessential “couch potato,” don’t let your studies or your job consume you sixty to seventy hours a week, don’t succumb to the lure of the latest zip-zapping, bright-shiny gizmo at the expense of playing one-on-one basketball, or running and lifting weights, or any other physical activity that will build up a sweat and keep your muscles toned, your torso and limbs trim. You know the grandmother I mentioned above? One of the reasons she’s still going strong (as I write this) at age seventy-five is because she still mows her own lawn, trims her own hedges, walks and bikes every day, line dances, bowls, and probably one or two other things I’m forgetting to list. She stays active — and she reaps the benefits. Stay active and you’ll receive those same benefits, too.

[2] Don’t Do Foolish Things That Will Eventually Compromise Your Health. My Dad chewed his fingernails; I’ve chewed them all my life. I eventually started cracking my knuckles; I’ve been a knuckle-cracker since my early teens. “What’s the harm?” You ask at the time. “It’s not doing a thing to me!” Ehhh-h-h-h — don’t kid yourself. As the years and the decades stack up, such behavior starts to take a toll. Today I’m feeling the early stages of arthritis, my right hand’s little finger has a knuckle that’s grown so swollen I can no longer full close that fist. All the way through your thirties you’re likely to feel invincible — avoid stupid little bad habits like fingernail chewing and knuckle cracking and maybe you’ll continue to feel that way into your forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, too.

[3] Support the Deserving Little Guys. The hard-working, quality-delivering Independent is always more satisfying to do business with than the giant, monolithic, impersonal Multinational. You can’t avoid the big guys, but you can seek out and support those little guys who are worthy of that support. You’ll shop at a chain supermarket, but if you have a butcher shop selling quality meats cut-to-order, or an area farm stand where you can buy farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, give those folks your business, even if you pay a little bit more. Who’s the best-selling author of the day? He or she doesn’t need your money — find the talented-but-lesser-known lights and read their works. They need the sales! Remember, the fact that you support the deserving little guys makes you a Big Guy in their eyes.

[4a] Treasure What Has Gone Before. The multinational pop culture industry and the media that supports it will try to tell you the only thing that’s important is buying What’s New Right Now, and looking ahead to What’s Coming Up. Don’t you believe it for an instant. The past century is stuffed to the rafters with amazing works, produced by unprecedented talents. Whether they know it or not, whoever Today’s Big Sellers are, they stand on the shoulders of Giants from the Past who originally plowed the territory they are now tilling. In music, go listen to Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison — in fiction, read The USA Trilogy by Dos Passos and the award-winning fiction of Harlan Ellison (that alone will keep you busy!), the science fiction of Asimov and Ray Bradbury, the detective fiction of Hammett and Raymond Chandler — in comics, read the first hundred issues of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, everything you can find by Will Eisner and Steranko, and, well, your Aunt Krista should have a pretty full bookshelf or two of beautiful comics by Milton Caniff and Jack Kent and Alex Raymond and Chet Gould and so many more. I helped create those books, and they’re a legacy I’m pleased and proud to share with you, if you’re of a mind to read them.

[4b] Stories You Love Will Go Sour on You Over Time. It might be because the gigantic multinational that owns the property decides to overexpose it, wring it dry of immediate profits, and leave the desiccated carcass along the roadside for the most devoted fans to pick at, like vultures stripping a carcass of its last edible scraps. It might be because it was an immensely powerful story in its time, but its time passes and the qualities that made it resonate no longer seem relevant. (Note that “no longer exist” and “no longer seem relevant” are two different things — stories set in World War II are still relevant when they illustrate the unthinking lust for power and man’s capability for inhumanity to his fellow man, even though World War II is now far, far in our past.) It might be that the work itself stands the test of time, but you yourself have changed so much that the story that held you spellbound in your teens or twenties will no longer “reach” you in your forties or fifties. It happens. It’s not the story’s fault, and it’s not your fault. That’s just the way it goes, sometimes.

[5] There Is No Number Five. Just funnin’ with ya — and if you know from where I cribbed that idea, it’ll a sign these words have reached you in the way I might hope they would.

[6] Longer Life Equals Increased Loss. It’s impossible to hang on to every good person you’ll meet along the way. Your favorite restaurants will close. Your favorite musical group will have a bitter break-up and the solo music that follows will never be as sweet as the music the band members made when they were together. Your favorite actor will stop getting work. Folks you like on the periphery of your life will begin to pass away — you’ll acknowledge those losses, and you’ll think, “If this is what death is like, it isn’t so bad.”

Then the dying will start to hit closer to home. It may be a parent (my Dad’s been gone eighteen years as I type this; not a week goes by when I don’t think of him, if only to use one or another of his favorite sayings, of which he had many) — it may be a close friend (it’s been almost two years now since my long-time pal Howard died. Our mutual friends and I still keenly feel the hole his absence has left in all our lives) — it’s even possible you’ll outlive a lover. Life changes forever after those types of losses. Nothing as you go forward is ever the same as it used to be — that doesn’t mean it’s all bad, and gloom and doom, and deep-dark depression. It just means we carry on and find the pleasures and the joys where we can, and if the light of days seems a little less sharply-defined, if the fire inside burns a little more slowly and deeply, that’s all right.

But once a loved one is gone, there are no do-overs, so say what you have to say to those you care about, and don’t pass up those opportunities to visit close friends and family members when those chances present themselves, because the day will come when there are no more opportunities, no more chances. It’s a shame to have business that can never be finished.

Of course, the path of life isn’t all filled with cautionary road signs like these. There is a world to discover that is full of wonder — there is good food to savor, more delightful entertainment than you can every experience in a single lifetime, incredible man-made wonders to experience, and natural wonders that dwarf even those. Most of all, there are persons to love who will love you back with all their hearts: hold them tightly and recognize them for what they are: the most precious gift of all.

And I hope you remember that in your case, H-Man, I’m on that list of those who love you, even if I am the only one kooky enough to send you a note down across a whole batch of years-still-to-come.

By the time you read this, I hope you’re in the midst of a splendid life. You deserve nothing less.

Lotsa luv

Your uncle, – B –

Written by cnwl1

September 26, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Genuine Honor

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On the morning of Saturday, July 11th, I came in from walking the dog and checked on-line to see the winners of the 2015 Eisner Awards, the comics industry’s version of the Oscars. This year’s Eisners were given out Friday night, at a banquet associated with Comic-Con in San Diego, California.

I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely humbled to see that Dean Mullaney and I won in the category of “Best Comics-Related Book” for Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth. The win for this third book in our Genius trilogy, a tribute to the monumental talents of Mr. Toth, follows last year’s win for Genius, Illustrated, the second book of the series. Going back-to-back in the same category is something of an uncommon feat, so I had no expectations of capturing the Eisner this year. As a result, I was stunned by the news!

To all those who contributed to the Genius series — those we interviewed who knew Alex, those collectors who admire his work and loaned us rare art pieces to use in our publications, and those who labored behind the scenes — heartfelt thanks. We can’t chip up the trophy to send you all a piece, but a portion of this win belongs to you. To the judging panel and all those involved in the Eisners, your support is sincerely appreciated. Most importantly, to the four Toth children — Dana, Carrie, Eric, and Damon — and their families: many thanks for your help. This Eisner Award is still more proof — though proof was hardly needed — of the enduring power of your father’s work.

My entries in this space are admittedly sporadic, at best, and I apologize if this reads like an Oscars/Emmys/Tonys acceptance speech. But those involved in this series, more than a half-decade in the making, deserve a bit of public recognition and appreciation — and I guess I’m still stunned by taking home the prize …

Best wishes to anyone who reads this —

Written by cnwl1

July 11, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Quick Blips on the Mental Radar

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Shorter items, noted as the leaves keep a’falling outside my window …

Finished October with a few days of intensive research at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Always a pleasant experience, and this time was no exception. You can read more about the junket by clicking the Blog feature at www.libraryofamericancomics.com.

One of life’s sad twists and turns struck me the other day. My oldest and dearest friends, friends of some thirty-five years, are the friends I found through our shared interest in comics. Eight of us grew from teenagers to middle-agers together, regularly staying in touch even as we geographically scattered across four different northeastern states, getting together as time and tide permitted. The sad twist that occurred to me? Four of our number have had comics work of one sort or another published within the past year, yet none of us show any signs of reading or commenting upon the others’ work. Had we had this type of success in younger days, we’d have been cheering one another on and dissecting each release, but the passage of the years has saturated our comics sensibilities, so we’re pleased for one another (I like to think), but we’re too busy dealing with Life and racing the next deadline to offer the sort of pats on the back we deserve. So let me publicly do what I can to correct this shortfall by noting that Lee Weeks is a justly-praised artist whose work is taking on a new vigor as he does his first work in more than a decade for DC Comics on a certain Man of Steel —  Dave Naybor’s multi-volume graphic novel Walking Christendom continues to amuse and enlighten and can be found here (http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Christendom-One-End/dp/055741167X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415460439&sr=1-3&keywords=Dave+Naybor) –“Freder’s” comics and many other projects can be viewed at www.ducksoup.me and are at last beginning to earn him praise and an audience that is long overdue. I recommend their work and commend them all, saying: W*E*L*L D*O*N*E, I’m proud to be your friend and delighted by your accomplishments!

Preparing to host Thanksgiving for the New England contingent of my family. Much to do, much to do …

This has been a fine year for meeting other comics professionals. It was a genuine pleasure to shake hands for the first time with Jeff Smith, Andy Runton, Joe Staton (and his writing partner,. Mike Curtis), Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Tom Palmer, and Fred Hembeck. Also great to renew acquaintances with folks such as John Romita Sr. and Denis Kitchen.

It’s also been an unusually active year in terms of long-distance travel. You’ll pardon me, perhaps, if I hope for a 2015 that includes less time in airports and more time at home!

Depite the woes of the local Boston Red Sox, this baseball season had much to recommend it, including an exciting postseason that reminded us why sports are the true “reality viewing,” as Big Team after Big Team was knocked out of competition by the two wildcard underdogs, the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. All the statistics and pre-game analysis doesn’t matter, because anything can happen before twenty-seven outs (or, in other sports, before forty-eight or sixty minutes) are recorded …

Finally, given the infrequency of my visits to this space, should this be my final posting for 2014, here’s wishing any and all who read this a Happy Thanksgiving, a Happy Christmas or other similar holiday, and an especially happy 2015!

Written by cnwl1

November 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm

As It Comes to All …

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A personal note of a sad nature — my wife and I have lost our fine dog, Little Paws. He passed away Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 11:22PM, aged fifteen years, three months, and ten days.

He was part schipperke, part sheltie. He was very loyal, very quiet, and the third member of our family.

Always Inquisitive

Always Inquisitive

I could devote a vast amount of space to funny stories and anecdotes illustrating what a delight he was, and what joy he brought to our lives, but instead I’ll refer you to Harlan Ellison’s heartfelt essay, “Ahbhu.” Little Paws was not Ahbhu, but Mr. Ellison’s reactions to the loss of his dog mirror those of my wife and me, so I’m content to let him speak for us.

What I will say is: Little Paws was a good friend and a dear companion, and even though we know what has happened is for the best, we both already greatly miss him.

Rest easy, “Mister Dog” —

Freshly Groomed

Freshly Groomed

Written by cnwl1

September 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Miscellaneous

A Sad State of Affairs

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Here comes what passes, for me, as a rant …

Several weeks ago I did what I thought was a good deed — I packaged up extra copies of several of our Library of American Comics volumes and brought them to the two Public Libraries in my immediate vicinity. In each case I walked in, politely introduced myself, gave a twenty or thirty second elevator speech about LOAC and what we do, and told them I wanted to donate some of our recent releases. In each case, the reaction was — shall we be kind and say? — underwhelming.

At the first Public Library the person at the desk looked at the books, up at me, then back at the books, and had she been sucking on a sour persimmon she might have looked slightly less pleased than she did at that moment. She grudgingly pulled them a bit closer to her side of the desk, mumbled something might have been a “Thank you,” then turned away from me without another word. At the second Public Library the reception was, if anything, even chillier. “We may not want these books,” the scarecrow behind the desk said to me. “we’ll have to review them, and if it turns out we don’t want them, is it all right if we put them into our next Library Book Sale?”

So, let’s recap: I’m coming to these establishments not as a raging egomaniac, and I’m not shoving old, well-thumbed, dog-eared books their way — I’m being polite. I’m coming to them with a smile on my face, and I’m presenting each of them with over two hundred fifty dollars worth of brand-spanking-new, shiny, hot-off-the-press volumes. At a point in history when we’re supposedly clamoring for all-ages material, here comes a batch of titles that fill that bill, produced in part by a local professional, and all it generates is sneers.

This experience makes me now publicly ask a question that’s been building for awhile now: When did the persons who make their living working with books start hating books? Yes, I’m talking to you, librarians, and to you, bookstore employees. What the haitch-ee-double-toothpicks? How can we expect kids to foster a love for books if you’re showing them this snot-nosed attitude whenever they visit your establishments? How can we keep adults reading if you interact with them in ways that indicate you’d rather be sucking down bon-bons on the couch while CSI reruns flicker across your TV screen, or sneaking off to the break room to play some brain-dead game on your so-called smartphone? I’m not asking you to act like Pollyanna to every belligerent customer who accosts you. I am suggesting you could act professionally, especially when dealing with another professional who is part of the overall profession that allows you to cash your paycheck on a regular basis.

It would be wrong for me to tar every librarian and bookseller with the same brush — I’m sure there are many knowledgeable, upbeat, helpful, enthusiastic librarians and booksellers in communities all over the country. If you are one of them, pat yourself on the back, because you are doing Good Work and you are seemingly part of an ever-shrinking tribe. I applaud you, and I wish you lived and worked in my community. Since you do not, you can bet your sweet bippy I’ve donated my last book to either of my local Public Libraries. I’ll contact the local hospitals, schools, and even retirement homes, working toward a simple goal: to find one or more places that will accept my occasional donated books with a smile and a “Thanks” that sounds sincere.

Is that really too much to ask …?

Written by cnwl1

May 16, 2014 at 2:31 am

Perfect Storytelling

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As my year-end gift to anyone who reads these e-pistles, here’s a quick examination of as perfect a little gem of story construction as you’ll ever find, a 1964 hit from country music legend Lefty Frizzell written by Bill Anderson (himself a country star of no small popularity) and Don Wayne. Since the song is still likely protected, I’ll resist publishing the lyrics here, but other sites — like this one, http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/classic-country/saginaw-michigan—lefty-frizzell-14966.html — have them readily available for you to check out, and the song itself is can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqMCeA_1XW8.

Regardless of your love or hate of 1960s country music, a look at the lyrics should impress anyone with an interest in story construction. Consider:

) The hero is introduced and described in the first verse. He’s a working-class guy, which makes him a sympathetic character.

) In the second verse, the hero’s problem and his antagonist are both introduced. “Love thwarted” is a theme that’s captivated audiences since before Shakespearean times, so the situation further resonates with the audience.

) Hero sets about solving his problem in the third verse. We feel his struggles, we see him working toward a solution.

) Fourth verse: eureka! The breakthrough that allows us to move along toward the climax of the story.

) The final meeting between hero and antagonist occurs in the fifth verse. The antagonist’s greed, so nakedly on display, makes him seem even more dispicable than he was when we last encountered him.

) And then comes the sixth verse, with its final twist that provides the _real_ punch that makes this such a sublime little tale — evil gets its comeuppance, True Love prevails, all in an unexpected manner. A most satisfying climax and anti-climax, all delivered in four compact lines, with a two-line outro that allows the song to end gracefully and tie up the tale in a big red ribbon.

One may say, “Intro — problem — resolution; beginning — middle — end; too old school for me!” I’d caution, however, in these days when so many stories fail at the finish line, either delivering endings that are unsatisfying or so predictable the audience sees them coming by the halfway mark, that it’s no small feat to produce a successful story using those tried-and-true mechanics. The struggling “artsy” writer may wish to prove he can kick it old school and compete with Bill Anderson and Don Wayne before embarking on some elaborate, and ultimately unsuccessful, flight of fancy.

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing —

Written by cnwl1

December 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm