Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Boys (and Girls and Men and Women and Little Kids) of Summer

I have a big recommendation for SUMMER WARS, the 2009 Japanese animated film recently released here on home video, with a spiffy English dub job written and directed by Patrick Seitz. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the director of the delightful THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME, this science fiction tale of a math nerd who gets hauled out to the country on a hot weekend at the end of July 2010 for a questionable job, becomes embroiled in the reunion of a large and contentious extended family, and who helps endanger, and then save, the world is a delight from start to finish. Part of what makes this movie so impressive is the director's and animators' skill in making each of the many characters an individual, each with his or her own "voice," mannerisms, and outlook on life -- something difficult to do in live action, harder in animation, and even harder when dealing with the low budgets that even creators of feature-length animation labor under in Japan.

Electronic Pulp

A couple of decades ago, if you strolled by the little wire-rack shelves of paperbacks in the local drug store or supermarket, you'd probably see garishly-painted covers depicting grim-faced muscular men, blazing guns, exploding helicopters, and general mayhem, along with trade dress along the top that identified the book as number # in the adventures of Mack Bolan, The Executioner or Nick Carter, Killmaster or Remo Williams, The Destroyer or one of the other Man of Action series that proliferated from the '60s through the '80s.

Those books, along with the Harlequin Romances flanking them, were the paperback junk food of that time. In many ways, they were the evolution of the bloody-pulp heroes of the '30's. (Not surprisingly, reprints of those same pulp heroes' adventures, repackaged with spiffy cover art, were being sold alongside them.) Moreover, they were artifacts of an era in which far more people read novels. Along with the mystery lovers, and the science fiction fans, and the folks who read literature and bestsellers, there were ordinary guys, men who frequented bars and drove trucks and watched pro wrestling, who read books. For entertainment. And these were some of the books they read. Evidently in great quantities, because they were all over the place, clogging used book stores and book exchanges as readers tore through them and discarded them.

My cousin Lee Goldberg got his literary start in the 1980s writing one of those series, under the pseudonym Ian Ludlow. And now he has returned to his roots, as he and his TV writing partner Bill Rabkin have started THE DEAD MAN, a series of sinewy novellas starring brawny sawyer Matthew Cahill, written primarily for the ebook market that is supplanting mass-market paperbacks.

The first book, which I finished yesterday, is a traditional superhero origin story for Cahill, who dies in an avalanche and is resurrected by supernatural means. He picks up an infernal nemesis (who likely had a hand in his resurrection), the ability to determine who is about to commit evil, and a compulsion to do something about it with his trusty axe. The series features the dense boluses of sex and gory violence endemic to the genre. And just to show that the authors don't take this stuff too seriously, there's a running gag: The narrator takes random incidental characters, folks who will never appear again, and tells us the sordid details of their lives. (After illuminating one young woman's perversion, the narrator comments, "But you'd never know any of that looking at her and are probably sorry that you know it now.")

Some of the subsequent books will be written by Lee and Bill; others will be written by guest authors, including Lee's uncle Burl Barer.

I'm not sure if the return of the Man of Action genre will encourage the working-man audience of those books to return. More likely the audience will be fans of pulps, tough-guy literature, supernatural thrillers, and the nostalgic.

As for me, well, the authors decided to name Cahill's former employer after our former family business, B. Barer & Sons. So the word "Barer" appears about 10 times in the first book. One way to get me to read a book is to repeatedly mention my name.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Thoughts Are With Japan

Ever since early Friday morning, when the first horrific images of the devastation in Japan from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the disaster has occupied many of my thoughts.

One reason is my fondness for Japan as a country. Amy and I visited it in 2004 and 2007, and thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, finding Japan a fascinating combination of the ancient and the futuristic. Although the greatest devastation occurred in areas we didn't visit, It's still jarring to see videos of mudflows consuming rice fields like the ones we bullet-trained through, or photos of visitors stranded in the same airport we used on both of our visits.

The other is personal experience. I was in Washington State when Mount St. Helens blew up, raining ash over the southern portion of the state. I was in San Francisco (in a high-rise apartment building) when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit. I was in Los Angeles when the 1994 Northridge earthquake struck. For that matter, during our 2007 visit to Tokyo, a typhoon rolled through town (although that was not treated as a major disaster). I'm no stranger to the terror, disorientation, and disruption disaster brings.

And so my thoughts are with Japan. So are my hopes that this resilient nation, which has survived so much, will get through this disaster.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Will and Legacy

Yesterday evening, I went to the Google home page and was startled to see that the logo paid tribute to Will Eisner and one of his most famous creations, The Spirit. (I'd say most famous, but likely Sheena, Queen of the Jungle takes that prize.) Eisner was sui generis. Not only was he a comics entrepreneur from the early days of the medium, but he was also one of the best writers and artists in comics history. If that weren't enough, he was a literate and articulate comics scholar and critic, and remained so until his death a few years ago. He was always a pleasure to speak to and listen to at conventions. Memorably, he always attended the ceremony at Comic-Con at which his namesake awards, the Eisners, were handed out; and although the con provided him with a literal throne to sit on, the octogenarian insisted on standing throughout the multiple-hour ceremony.

Mark Evanier, who often hosted Eisner on panels, provides some memories of the gent here

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