Sunday, April 17, 2011

Soulless Tea

I have written in the past that I am impressed not only with the novels from the author who writes as Gail Carriger, but with her marketing savvy. Ms. Carriger has not only created a series of witty, entertaining steampunk fantasy books, the Parasol Protectorate (with "soulless" protagonist Alexia Tarabotti), but she has created an entire persona to go with it -- tea and fashion maven Carriger -- and works tirelessly to present that persona via blog, Twitter, and personal appearances.

Her efforts have paid off: In an era in which print sales of books are ebbing, the second and third books in her Parasol Protectorate series landed on the New York Times Bestseller list in 2010 -- quite a feat, especially when one considers they were her second and third novels ever published.

Last week, Amy and I had the pleasure of taking part in one of the events designed to promote Ms. Carriger's books: a tea held at a nice tea/rose house in Old Town Pasadena. The event sold out, and the rather small space was jammed with elegant outfits as folks sipped tea and nibbled on scones and finger sandwiches. Ms. Carriger made sure everyone at the tea had a chance to talk with her: She went table to table as people ate, and later set up a signing table in the middle of the room. In between, she read from the manuscript of the fourth book in the series, HEARTLESS (which comes out in July), and answered questions. If only all promotional events were this much fun.

(The photo of me is from Pixy Vision Productions, the official photographer for the event. All other photos are by me.)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Even the Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

Even though Jack Kirby was best known for his superhero comic work (the genre that he revolutionized in the forties and the sixties), my first exposure to his comic book work was not a superhero comic. That's because before I began reading and collecting superhero comics, I was a big fan of DC's line of war comics. (I liked Marvel's SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS too, but even as an eight year old the DC war comics seemed to have more gravitas, with their brooding Joe Kubert covers and their "Make War No More" slogan in the last panel of every story.) So the first Kirby comic I ever bought, back in 1974, was what turned out to be his first work on the OUR FIGHTING FORCES comic feature, The Losers.

Last week, memories of that first encounter were brought back as I bought and read the hardcover collection of Kirby's LOSERS stories that was published two years ago.

In the introduction to the volume, Neil Gaiman notes that THE LOSERS was arguably the last great Kirby comics feature; and reading the stories nearly thirty years after their publication, I must agree. These weren't Kirby's characters (they were all former stars of their own strips who had lost their slots -- hence, perhaps, the feature's title)but Kirby had written and drawn many, many war comics before he worked on THE LOSERS -- including the aforementioned SGT. FURY. Artistically, Kirby was still at the top of his game, his panels loaded with the violent poetry that brought to life his Marvel work on THOR, FANTASTIC FOUR, and CAPTAIN AMERICA, along with the Fourth World books he did in the early seventies for DC. When Kirby draws a Nazi rail mounted Supergun, it looks gigantic, like it goes on for miles; when he depicts a town shelled by the allies, it looks as if hell itself is erupting out of the ground. In terms of writing, Kirby shed the quirks of weird dialogue and jarring punctuation that marked his other written work of the seventies and eighties. Instead, his dialogue is straightforward and rings true, even if stylized in comic book form.

And then there are the stories. As Gaiman points out, Kirby devoted little time to developing the main characters of the strip. Instead, his focus is on the side characters they meet -- the classical pianist who bangs out "Ride of the Valkyries" as the Nazi officer who was searching for her lies dying; the Jesse Owens-like Army supply officer who meets his rival from the 1936 Olympics, now a German paratrooper, and races him through a minefield; the science-fiction-fan private whose ideas are used for a decoy operation. Kirby is unstinting in depicting the Nazis as evil (after all, he and they fought each other during the real World War II); but he also approaches all of his characters as human beings, rather than caricatures.

I recommend THE LOSERS to anyone who knows Kirby only from his superhero work; or who thinks Kirby's strengths were only his art. It's excellent comics work.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Birthday Party in Newcastle

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of attending my uncle Arnold Barer's 75th birthday, held at a magnificent venue in Newcastle, Washington overlooking Seattle and its environs.

Mother nature graced our brunch with a magnificent rainbow. Uncle Arny, ever competitive, pulled out his iPhone and showed me a picture he snapped of the much more impressive rainbow he'd seen from his house earlier that morning.

After the huge buffet, we were treated to speeches from Uncle Arny's friends and family, including one from my dad to his brother. (I don't know if the matching yellow sweaters were planned.)

Arny also endured some good-natured (I hope) roasting from his sons. Here's Sam, who enlisted Arny's grandkids into his plans.

Also present were my brothers (and fellow bloggers) Steve and Mike, along with their respective spouses.

We all had a great time. I hope that our family will continue to have milestone birthdays like this into the future.