“Read a Damn Book – 160: Peculia”

What happens if you mix gothic horror, the old cheesiness of the Universal-style monster movies, Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy rogues gallery, and the surreal, nightmarish weirdness of dreams all in one comic? You get Peculia, that’s what happens!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Peculia is a collection of loosely connected, short, very strange stories, all starring Peculia, an independently wealthy breakfast cereal fanatic who likes to take walks, but who tends to get attacked, kidnapped, or waylaid every time she leaves her house (and is then saved either by her butler, Ambrose, or a mysterious, sinister figure, named Obscurus.) These stories are all written and drawn by Richard Sala, one of my absolute favorite comic creators, (I’ve previously reviewed his brilliant noir graphic novel, Mad Night), and all but one of these tales were previously serialized in Sala’s monthly comic, Evil Eye (published by Fantagraphics Books.) There are nine or ten stories here, presented in stunning black and white, with the final story (created just for this volume, according to the contents page) being a quick, “silent film” (no word balloons) in vivid hues in what appears to be watercolors (but might just be a digital effect—I can’t tell for sure…and I don’t care. I just LOVE how it looks.)

The WORLD that Richard Sala conjures in this book is a strange, gothic, noir place, full of sinister, oddly shaped figures, monsters, ghosts, zombies, spies, secret societies, sorcery, shape-shifting cult members, and vaguely super-heroic characters. Peculia, in this collection, seems to have no form of employment, but has a lovely house and paid servants (including both the supernaturally efficient butler, Ambrose, and a large, bird-headed doorman, named Byrd.) Her house is also within walking distance of shopping centers AND quaint European villages AND primeval forests full of monsters and deadly beasts, and although Peculia seems to LOVE going for walks, there is about a 50-50 chance that she is going to be grabbed from behind before she finishes her jaunt and hauled off by some evil fiend bent on some horrible scheme (usually involving murder or black magic or WORSE!)

Sala’s art style is cartoonish, but it also has a dark, gruesome element to it:

Again, like Charles Schulz, Sala creates some extremely emotive facial expressions with just a few lines. He is also a master of shadows and evocative lighting, and he’s also not afraid to take his cartoony characters and give them the full HORROR treatment. We get throats being bitten, folks being sizzled alive, gun shots through chests, and even one rather nasty exploding head—all in this one book. Did I mention yet that this collection is not for kids? Because it’s NOT for kids! And not just because of the violence. There’s also a vaguely perverse, sexual element to some of these stories, with Peculia or some of the other female characters occasionally being portrayed in various states of undress. (Yep, there’s cartoon nudity in this book.) So, although the art style might SEEM kid friendly, the STORIES are definitely not. There’s violence, death, gore, nudity, and sexual insinuation (although nothing EXPLICIT) throughout the book—but it’s all done in a rather tongue-in-cheek tone, which I find brilliantly entertaining and funny.

The stories here are all quite short, as I’ve mentioned, and they’re driven by a sort of dream-logic. There are wildly implausible coincidences, secret cults with magical powers, and (to be fair) very little character development, at least in the title figure. She just seems to float through whatever comes her way, in the end rather unaffected by the carnage that’s happening all around her. In a way, it’s almost like reading a monstrous version of Spy vs Spy, where you know who the characters are—because they never change—but you keep coming back to see what sort of crazy death-trap one or the other of the characters is going to fall into THIS time, but by the end of the day, you’re always back to square one. All is well—until NEXT time!

There are hints of some kind of back-story in these tales, particularly with the character, Obscurus, and his hench-woman, Justine, (who is obviously jealous of the attraction that Obscurus feels towards Peculia.) However, these hints and suggestions are more like tantalizing glimpses of something hidden than major plot developments, as the individual stories are just as likely to involve weird, cannibalistic witches; or a strange, giant, grasping hand on an infinitely long arm; or zombies; or a cute, little, psychopath girl with a rifle who wants to be friends with Peculia—some weird random thing—as they are to feature Justine or Obscurus (although even in the weirder tales, one of them will usually get a short cameo by the end of the story.)

For people looking for a wholesome, kid-friendly comic experience, Peculia is NOT going to be for you, but if what you want are some fun, weird, beautifully drawn, noir, monster stories, swimming in cartoon violence, and with a slightly perverse sub-text floating just beyond where your flickering candle-light can reach, there are few comics creators whose work can entertain as well as Sala’s does. This collection isn’t a straightforward narrative, like his books Mad Night or The Chuckling Whatsit are, as these are more like serialized stand-alone stories (which is what they WERE before being collected here), but this is still a very entertaining, incredibly strange comic that LOOKS great and is perfect for a dark laugh or two! Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan or things like Edward Gorey or the old Creepy and Eerie horror comic magazines!

Okay! Are you convinced!? (If not, check out Sala’s BLOG and see what he’s been up to lately!!!)

Later!!!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!

[This review was originally posted on my Steemit blog on 26 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 159: Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Hey folks! I’m FINALLY getting around to reviewing an H.P. Lovecraft book! BUT… It’s not one of his works of fiction… (Sorry!) Instead, I’m looking at an extended essay he wrote on the history and development of a specific type of horror story, which Lovecraft HIMSELF felt was the BEST kind of horror. You know…the kind that HE wrote!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

H.P. Lovecraft – Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927 / 2018)

The book I’m looking at today is a 2018 digitization of a long essay that Lovecraft originally published in back in 1927, but which (according to Wikipedia) was edited and republished in the early 1930s, and I’m honestly not sure which version I’ve got with my digitized copy—because the company who published it, Aeterna Classics, gave ZERO history or publication information with this digital book. While I’m on the publisher’s case, there were also a NUMBER of typos in this text, and I’m not usually that bothered by a typo here or there, but there were a LOT in this book, like too many, making me think they weren’t being as diligent with the editing as they should have been—so if I were you, if you are considering getting a copy of this book, I’d either get a paper copy OR try to find a version that isn’t published by Aeterna. (I USED to own a paper copy of this book, but I loaned it to somebody several years ago—and then I forgot who I loaned it to, and I never got the book back… Hopefully, the person I loaned it to enjoyed it!)

What this book ISN’T: Lovecraft is most well known for his weird fiction, particularly for his monstrous, stygian creation Cthulhu, which WAS a horrifying monster that was so awful that merely DREAMING about it could drive someone insane (and seeing it in person was even worse); but Cthulhu is NOW a cuddly, squid-faced plush toy. The creature has become so sanitized and removed from its original context that it clearly constitutes a crime against nature. (I’m losing focus here… Let’s get back on track!) Although Lovecraft is most well known for his horror stories, this book does NOT contain any of his fictional works. Instead…

What this book IS is a long essay in which Lovecraft lays out why he feels SUPERNATURAL horror is superior to all other types of fiction, how it differs from mere grotesque or violent fiction (such as one might find in a mystery novel with lots of dead bodies strewn about), how this type of fiction developed over time, and he presents a detailed examination of some of his picks for the most influential works that include the proper tone and tropes for inclusion in the WEIRD CIRCLE*. *(In another aside, The Weird Circle was also the name of great, old horror radio show, which you can still find online and which often included fantastic dramatizations of supernatural and weird stories, including several mentioned by Lovecraft in this very book! Give it a listen HERE, if you’re interested!!)

Full disclosure: I’m just going to say this now…unless you are a literary scholar or a die-hard fan of horror history, you’re probably NOT going to enjoy this book. The language is a bit dry and pompus, although I personally appreciate Lovecraft’s wit and his sometimes harsh criticisms of the tales he discusses, particularly of works which he felt were more famous or influential than they deserved to be. What I DO NOT appreciate is Lovecraft’s persistent race-based conceits. He isn’t OVERTLY racist in this text, although it’s now pretty well established that Lovecraft DID, in fact, have strong beliefs that we would now label as blatantly racist (according to scholars, like Robert Price and Scott Poole, both of whom have done fascinating, often very funny and entertaining interviews on the MonsterTalk podcast about Lovecraft.) Lovecraft talks about regional differences in story tropes as being RACIALLY distinct, instead of being merely CULTURAL distinctions, which may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s NOT insignificant, and this racialized talk (especially after listening to the MonsterTalk discussions that clearly demonstrated his nasty racial biases) really makes me uncomfortable now—but he does have some interesting things to say about a whole bunch of old horror stories and writers, many that aren’t really talked about anymore, which makes this book a worthwhile read (as long as we are conscious and aware of the racist tropes.)

I’ve read this text a number of times now, and the first time I read through the book, I’d only encountered a handful of the weird authors that Lovecraft mentions, like Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Coleridge, H.G. Wells, and a few other rather famous figures that I’d learned about in high school and early college lit classes. AFTER reading his book, I was inspired to seek out some of the other figures that he spoke of in glowing letters—people like Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany, and Clark Ashton Smith, all of whom I really enjoyed reading. In addition, because the number of authors he mentions is so large, each time I reread this book, I note one or two more forgotten names to search for (and many of these authors’ works are now in the public domain, which means that getting a digital copy of their books can be quite cheap or even free! Although, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, you do GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If you download a free version of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, it might not have the same attention to detail as a Norton or Broadview edition will have OR any of the extras, like critical assessments or historical and contextual essays! Serious horror nerds LOVE that kind of stuff!)

Not everyone who likes horror is going to love OLD or gothic literature, especially if they’ve come to horror fiction from the more modern, splatter gore or shock-horror era of things, like Saw or Hostel—although Lovecraft would argue that these works, while horrific, are NOT examples of SUPERNATURAL horror of the type that he is championing in this book. For Lovecraft, there MUST be an element of the story that takes the reader OUTSIDE of the mundane world and suggests some unknown, overwhelming darkness or evil that is beyond human comprehension. There isn’t any such “supernatural” element in a work like Hostel, which is purely human inspired evil. Whereas Friday the 13th, even the first film (from 1980), has both “standard” earthly horrors from the extreme violence AND the suggestion of a supernatural element in the character of Jason, who has somehow survived, UNDER WATER, for many years. The boogeyman figure of Jason (who appears at the very end of the first film, then becomes the antagonist for most of the next ten or so films) is ESSENTIALLY a zombie, an unstoppable DEATH figure who deals out punishment—primarily to teenagers who can’t control their hormonal impulses. Since the MECHANISMS by which Jason—who I should mention didn’t jump-scare his way into the public eye until FORTY YEARS after Lovecraft’s death (in 1937)—the MEANS by which he goes from drowning victim to punishing angel are never explained, and this gives the story the ESSENTIAL element of the supernatural that Lovecraft attempts to define in this book, whereas stories, like Saw or Hostel or Psycho, are merely grotesque and violent, and therefore outside of the Lovecraftian arena. The distinction might not seem important, but Lovecraft argues that the supernatural elements of a tale RAISE the effectiveness of the story by acting differently on the mind of the reader than more simple shocks or human inflicted violence. For HIM, the difference is vitally important—and he attempts to argue that the difference is also FELT by the reader, even if it isn’t always acknowledged or understood.

His essay is interesting, in my opinion, especially for the information he includes on the dozens of early horror and weird fiction authors who have slipped out of the modern consciousness—but I’m also an ex-literary scholar AS WELL AS a lover of horror fiction. I can certainly see where some folks might have a hard time following his writing style (as he likes to use esoteric language, including a lot of words that most folks are going to need to look up!) In addition, people who pick this book up looking for a scary Lovecraft STORY are going to be bitterly disappointed, as there’s no fiction to be found here, beyond Lovecraft’s quick retellings of a few major works of weird fiction for analytical purposes. This book is primarily a scholarly look at a very specific genre of fiction—(with a bit of uncomfortable, subtly racist language clogging the essay’s arteries.) However, what the book DOES have going for it is the interesting attempt by Lovecraft at examining WHY certain forms of horror fiction are more effective than others, AS WELL AS the plethora of information he shares (including his personal opinions) on A GREAT MANY early horror writers, covering several hundred years of weird fiction (and poetry.) I’ve returned to this text numerous times in search of new stories to read and enjoy!

SOOOOOO….if you like horror fiction AND you’re interested in seeing how that genre developed over time, this book (with a few reservations) is a great resource. Lovecraft was clearly passionate about scary stories, and many of the works he mentions in this text are some of my favorite spooky stories of all time! (Will you look at that! This review ended up being Halloween appropriate after all, so… BONUS!!!)

Okay, thanks for stopping by!!! Now go read a damn book!!!!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!

[This review was originally posted on my Steemit blog on 20 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 158: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

It’s been about a year and half since I reviewed the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I was feeling the need to revisit some fun, well worn, homey territory. Does this book still hold up??? Is it worth reading through all 433 pages??? Let’s dive into this monstrous, ghost-filled tale and see! (It’s at least seasonally appropriate, if you ask me!)

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999/2002)

As I mentioned in my review of the first book in this series, I’ve been down this road before. This is probably my third time reading Chamber of Secrets, and I’ve seen the film adaptation dozens of times. (My wife and I will frequently get the itch and binge watch all the Harry Potter films over the course of a week or two… We do the same thing with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, about once a year!) However, it’s probably been about three years since I’ve READ this particular book, and it’s surprising to me how many things I can forget in just a few years, even with a book I’ve already read multiple times.

For people who have never bothered to pick up this novel OR seen the films, (are those people still out there???), here’s a quick recap of what we’re talking about: In the first book in the series, Harry Potter, who was raised by his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, but is treated rather poorly by them, discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is a wizard and that his parents were both magic users, too, but were killed when he was just a baby by an evil wizard. Despite his aunt and uncle’s protests, Harry is invited to Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards—and he goes off on an adventure to this magic castle, where he makes friends, learns to control his magical powers, and does battle with the same evil wizard who murdered his parents.

This second book opens with Harry, back at his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer and disappointed that his friends from the magic school haven’t written to him during the break. Surprisingly, Harry is visited by an ELF, (named Dobby), who tells him that he shouldn’t go back to Hogwarts because someone is planning to unleash some evil scheme, and the elf doesn’t want Harry to be hurt of killed if he returns to the school. In fact, Dobby has even been keeping all the letters that Harry’s friends have written to him over the summer, hoping that if Harry thought nobody at the school cared about him, he wouldn’t want to return, but Harry, who hates living with the Dursleys, tells Dobby that he feels more at home at Hogwarts and in the magical world—and he ignores the elf’s warning and returns to the school, only to discover that someone has unleashed a horrible monster that begins petrifying students (turning them into living statues). Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, learn that this same creature was let loose at the school fifty years before, as well, and that the last time, someone was even killed.

It’s a fairly simple premise, a monster that no one seems to be able to see or stop is running around the school causing chaos and threatening to kill the students, but what Rowling does to make the book interesting is combine a mystery / detective element to the plot, in which Harry and his friends try to discover WHAT is attacking students and WHO set it loose. And this mystery element is combined (quite deftly) with humor, monsters, and whimsical magic, and it’s built around solid characters. There are a number of well defined, memorable folks in this book, besides the big three (Harry, Ron, and Hermione.) There’s the wise, knowledgeable wizard, Dumbledore; the strict but fair Professor McGonagall; the grouchy, cantankerous school janitor, Filch; the slimy and sinister Lucius Malfoy; and a new character introduced in this book, the pompous, self-aggrandizing buffoon, Professor Lockhart, who clearly has no idea what he’s doing and provides some much needed humor in this fairly dark tale (until his true colors are exposed!)

For people who have seen the movie but never read the novel, I do recommend reading this book. Rowling does a great job of creating atmosphere, her dialog is quite entertaining, and (being 400+ pages long) there are a LOT of details in this book that didn’t make it into the film. Some of the most entertaining “missing” scenes that can only be found in the novel include a fist fight between Ron Weasley’s father and Mr. Malfoy in Flourish and Blotts book shop; all of the wacky antics of the poltergeist character, Peeves (who is in all of the books, but for reasons I will never understand, never appeared in the films); and the Death Day party that the ghost, Nearly-Headless Nick, invites Harry to! There are a great many differences between the book and the movie, particularly in the amount of time the reader gets to spend getting to know some of the minor characters—but I do still enjoy the movies, and I understand why they took most of the extra bits out. HOWEVER!!! If you want the FULL STORY, it really is worthwhile going back to the source material. Rowling’s writing style is easy to read and JAMMED FULL of little quirks and details, most of which I quite enjoy. (I do have to say, though, that the giant spider sequence is MUCH more exciting in the film. Sometimes, it helps to SEE the monster!)

All that being said, this is a quick read and entertaining. At this point in the series, I think Rowling was still probably aiming at a middle school audience, but the novel doesn’t feel dumbed down or (I hate to say it) stupid, like a lot of books for younger readers are. I appreciate how difficult it is for an author to write for a younger audience, but not sound like they’re being patronizing or talking down to their readers. It takes a master, like Maurice Sendak, to write a kids book that adults can also enjoy. I think, and my wife and brother will back me up, Rowling did a good job of making a book for younger readers that can fly just as well with “grown-ups.”

Chamber of Secrets doesn’t really have any bad language or explicit sexual content, although the scarier scenes might be a teeny bit intense for youngsters or people who don’t read a lot of scary stories. (Anyone who can handle a Stephen King story shouldn’t be bothered at all.) In some of the later Harry Potter novels, the violence gets a bit more graphic, but this one isn’t really bloody at all, even though you do get a bit of “death talk,” particularly from the ghostly characters, like Nearly-Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle, who like to describe how the met their fates. I suppose I should say that some folks, who think all tales of MAGIC are evil, are going to be bothered by this book, but I honestly don’t see anything in this text that you could say was Satanic… (At all. And I’ve read the Satanic Bible, so I know from whence I speak.) The primary theme that seems to be most explicitly hammered home in this book is that those WITH power have a moral obligation to PROTECT those who do NOT have power. To ME that doesn’t sound particularly EVIL, but maybe I’m not the right person to ask…

Final words: This book is fun and funny, includes a suspenseful “who-done-it” plot, has a couple of great monsters in it, and the story is built around solidly developed, entertaining characters, who I really enjoy coming back to every few years and visiting again. Hopefully, it won’t take me quite as long to get to The Goblet of Fire, but who knows!?!?! Alrighty folks, “FINITE INCANTATUM!!!”

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!

[This review was originally published on my Steemit blog on 12 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 157: Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1 – Seed of Destruction”

I’m a massive fan of Guillermo del Toro, and in particular I LOVE his 2004 film adaptation of Hellboy, so much so that I bought the giant, three disc, “Director’s Cut” box set on DVD. (I’m extremely poor, so I almost NEVER buy the extended box sets with all the special features… In fact, the LAST time I bought a special set like this, it was for a VHS release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma ½ animated show, back in the 1990s!) HOWEVER, and for reasons that I really can’t explain, until I bought this omnibus collection (through Comixology), I’d only ever read two or three issues of the comic series, and I’d never OWNED any of the books! So—how well does the comic hold up to the film? Let’s find out!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Mike Mignola – Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1 – Seed of Destruction (2018)

Hellboy, the character, is the creation of writer / artist, Mike Mignola, and this book collects his stories going back to 1993, as well as early concept art and the first few published Hellboy short story appearances. This book includes the graphic novels Hellboy: Seed of Destruction and Hellboy: Wake the Devil, as well as a few other individual stories. The first graphic novel presented in this book, Seed of Destruction, is listed as having been scripted by comics legend, John Byrne. I’m pretty sure that all of these books were originally published by Dark Horse Comics, aside from some of the earliest concept art and short-shorts, which are included at the end of the collection. I’m just going to say this now, at over 350 pages, this collection was a FANTASTIC buy, and the next time I’m rich, I’m certainly going to throw some money at the second omnibus collection!

For those who have never read the comics, seen the three live action films, or any of the animated features, here’s a quick overview of what this series is about. (I’m going to TRY not to give away too many spoilers because part of what’s so much fun in this series is experiencing the various revelations with Hellboy as he discovers them.) First off, I want to try to describe what TYPE of story this is, but that’s not exactly that easy to do, as what Mignola has crafted is something unique—and that’s saying something! I’ve read a LOT of genre fiction, and aside from (maybe—a bit—in some ways) DC Comic’s The Doom Patrol or Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (neither of these titles is EXACTLY the same thing, but there are similar elements in both), Hellboy is definitely doing its own thing. The story combines occult / supernatural elements, a noir / detective feel, secret agent tropes, Lovecraftian horror, folklore concepts, and VERY strong characterization, and not only in the primary protagonists, be also delving into the thoughts and motivations of the “bad guys”!

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the film, which I remind you, I loved, but I’m going to say this—as wonderful as the del Toro production was, Mignola’s comic is absolutely EPIC! It has a very different mood from the film version (I’m talking specifically about the 2004 movie, here—I like the 2006 sequel, but it’s different, and I haven’t seen the 2019 version, yet), and I was surprised at just HOW different the overall tone was. The film has a comedic tone, lots of action, a bit of drama, and some excellent monsters in it—whereas the COMIC is based solidly in the HORROR camp. It combines elements of other genres, as I mentioned above, but the TONE is primarily dark, haunted, and serious, though with the occasional lighter moment, usually as a result of the dialog and interactions between characters. Although, Hellboy himself is less silly in the comic than he was in the film—more of a hard-working, hard-boiled detective, who knows he has an important job to do, a dangerous job with lots of lives at stake, but additionally, he’s also a very HUMAN character in the comics (especially for a demon or devil or whatever sort of entity he’s supposed to be.) I think Ron Perlman’s character in the movies is fun and entertaining—but the comic character is much deeper, with a well-developed, introspective personality. It helps that we have access to his thoughts through the comic text boxes, so we know exactly what he’s thinking—something that the on-screen character lacks. This is not Perlman’s fault, of course, but the advantage definitely goes to the comic, in this case. In addition, Professor “Broom”, played by John Hurt in the film, is barely in the comic, and the firestarter character, Liz, (who was well acted by Selma Blair), is more of a sober, serious character, as well.

It’s actually kind of strange… Somehow, the comic is LESS cartoony than the live action adaptation.

In this comic series, the reader learns that Hellboy is some kind of an elemental creature, something like a demon or devil, who was brought to Earth at the tail end of World War II by a sorcerer, Grigori Rasputin, who is working with a team of Nazis to supposedly enact a magical ritual that will turn the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor. Though Rasputin completes the ritual, it ends up NOT being the miracle that the Nazis had hoped for, but something far darker—and Rasputin, his secret plans complete, disappears into the icy Arctic, and the Allied forces win the war.

Fast forward several decades, and Hellboy, who fell into Allied hands, has grown up in military custody and, showing an aptitude for fighting threats that would easily destroy the average human, he becomes an agent of a secret organization, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The stories from this point in the book take off in a variety of interesting and strange directions, although the true threat, beyond all of the various monsters and vampires and ghosts and harpies that Hellboy and the other BPRD agents encounter, is the question of who Hellboy REALLY is, and what sort of dark destiny is hanging over his head.

Each of the stories in this book are INCREDIBLY well told. The characters are developed and convincing, the mood is PITCH PERFECT, including horror, mythology, and folklore elements with a grim and gritty, hard-boiled detective noir feel. And the book IS still funny, even though the tone is MUCH darker than the film. There is a lot of action, some very creepy, dream-like, haunted sequences, and an atmosphere dripping with black magic that makes the reader feel as though they have somehow slipped into a deep, dark, dream-world that they are exploring through Hellboy’s eyes.

As a huge fan of gothic horror, folklore, mythology, and Lovecraftian cosmic madness, I truly appreciate the nods to classic literature and the attention to DETAIL that Mignola brings to this book. He has a vampire character, Giurescu, who, when killed, can be revived if his body is laid in direct moonlight—just like the vampire in the 1819 work, The Vampyre by John Polidori. The Russian folklore figure, Baba Yaga, a witch who supposedly lives in a strange hut with chicken legs (!!!), plays a significant role in the story, and the Lovecraftian trope of calling on ancient Titanic monsters, which slumber in a dimension tangential to ours waiting to be summoned back to Earth to wreak havoc, is one of the primary goals for the sorcerer, Rasputin. If nothing else, Mignola and I have read a LOT of the same books!!! (Ha!)

It would also be criminal for me to wrap up this review without mentioning Mignola’s stunning artwork. He has a stylized, almost blocky line, (not completely dissimilar to Jack Kirby’s), which he utilizes to create some fantastic noir effects, particularly shadow, silhouettes, and dark, gothic compositions. His panels are absolutely beautiful, often countering expressive close-ups of faces with images in which the characters are tiny, overshadowed by some massive, threatening architectural structure, like a rotting church, or a crumbling ruin, or an old, gothic, haunted house. His sense of light and dark, his framing of the characters in his scenes, his extremely expressive faces (often created with just a few, well chosen lines and dripping with shadow and general menace), and his dynamic and powerful action scenes all work together to create a living (or, I should say, “undead”), breathing, terrifying world… In the same vein as masters, like King Kirby and Will Eisner, Mignola has a distinctive, unique style, which works perfectly with the noir tone of the story he’s telling.

For any sensitive types who might be considering reading this book, I have to mention that this is a dark, mature title. There is some cussing, quite a few violent scenes, and a TON of occult and Nazi and nightmarish / supernatural imagery. There are some theological concepts at play here, which also might upset any religious folks who (for some reason) accidentally wander into the book (although, beyond looking for things to complain about, I can’t imagine why a person sensitive about religious concepts would even TOUCH a book called Hellboy.) It’s not as gory or violent as something like From Hell, but it’s certainly not kid-friendly, by any means. As I mentioned above, this is first and foremost, a HORROR title—albeit one that also incorporates detective and (maybe just a bit) some superhero tropes, as well (if you consider books, like Doom Patrol or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen superhero titles.)

My personal opinion: I LOVE IT. I’m a huge fan of the del Toro movie, but I have to say, this collection really presents a MUCH more developed story. It’s much darker, gives us more insight into the characters, (especially Hellboy and Rasputin), and it just has a more EPIC feel, but it also has a lot of PAGES over which the story can unfold, whereas the film version only gets 132 minutes—and that’s the extended DIRECTOR’S cut! (I would compare the world that Mignola has crafted here, favorably, to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, as far as both depth AND weirdness are concerned.) The story might not be for everyone, as it is a strange mash-up of several weird genres, plus some of the imagery and concepts might freak a few people out, but as I said, I love all of the elements that went in to this stew, and I think what Mignola has created with this series is exceptional. I will absolutely be reading more of his work in the near future!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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“Read a Damn Book – 156: The Amazing Spider-Man – Marvel Masterworks Volume 1”

I was surprisingly shaken by the recent news that Spider-Man will NOT be returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the foreseeable future. (I understand that CARING about which superheroes, played by specific actors, will be in upcoming superhero fantasy films makes me a bit of a nerd… Just a bit… But I’m OLD, and I like what I like. I love Air Supply and Culture Club and Scorpions and vanilla ice-cream and 50-50 blend t-shirts and Disneyland and Star Wars and talking about the weather and painting on recycled cardboard and playing Minecraft and reading comic books and watching superhero movies—and I don’t care who knows it!) BUT, just because the next Tom Holland Spider-Man movies won’t be set in the MCU doesn’t change the COMICS, right? So I thought it was time to go back to the SOURCE, the ORIGINAL Spider-Man stories, and see where this pop culture icon actually came from… As surprising as this might be for some people to believe, I’d never bothered to read the early Spider-Man comics before, even though I grew up reading TONS of Spidey books—mostly from the 1970s and later. Come with me now, through the magic of the Marvel Masterworks reprint collections, to where it all started!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Stan Lee & Steve Ditko – The Amazing Spider-Man – Marvel Masterworks Volume 1 (2017)

Spider-Man made his dramatic debut in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, issue #15, which had a cover date of August 1962, and this Masterworks collection includes his first appearance as well as the first ten issues of The Amazing Spider-Man series. Spidey got his own book about seven months after his debut—issue #1 was dated March 1963.

That initial comic appearance is a story we all know. Nerdy kid is picked on by classmates, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains fantastic powers, tries to be a selfish jerk, which leads directly to the death of his Uncle Ben, and decides after this tragedy to use his powers for good. Eleven pages that changed the world. (Hopefully, I didn’t reveal any spoilers there, but considering the story is about 57 years old, and it’s been told and retold a thousand times in comics, movies, cartoons, and so on, it’s safe to say it’s pretty much common knowledge. Like, do I have to say, “Spoiler!” before mentioning that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father? Probably not.)

What makes this original story interesting, considering how many times I’d already encountered it, is Steve Ditko’s odd, angular artwork. He plays fast and loose with physics and geometry, and he creates some truly awkward and uncomfortable looking poses and facial expressions. It’s funny just to look at his artwork—although perhaps in a way that it wasn’t meant to be. Kind of like Jack Kirby, who draws these fantastically weird faces and poses—but where Kirby’s work is stylized and exaggerated and creates this crazy intensity, Ditko’s drawings look more freaked out and manic. The faces look SHOCKED a lot of the time, big circular eyes, and snarling, grotesque mouths and weird noses on nearly every “bad guy” character. (You rarely have a hard time guessing when a character is going to turn out to be evil—they almost always LOOK disgusting.)

I’ve seen and read a lot stuff about how Stan Lee was usually credited for the “story” in the early Marvel Comics, and yet the tales invariably differ dramatically from artist to artist. A Jack Kirby story is always epic and grandiose and full of POWER and action. Yet a story supposedly written by Lee but drawn by Steve Ditko is weirdly claustrophobic and angry and full of morally compromised characters. The idea, from several documentaries and introductions that I’ve read to Marvel reprint collections, is that Stan Lee would come up with the IDEA for a story, maybe suggest a villain and a few of the main plot points, then he would hand these sketches of a story off to Kirby or Ditko or Don Heck or Gene Colan, and they would DRAW THE COMIC, (creating the story flow, the action, the character interactions, etc.,) then these pages would be given back to Lee, and he would write in the dialog and captions. Eventually, folks like Kirby and Ditko ended up having some serious fits about getting the WRITING credits they felt they deserved, having plotted the entire book when the laid-out their art, even ignoring Lee’s suggestions when they actually created the tale. (You get a look at this process in this collection, as some of the original artwork, with editorial marks in pencil, are included. It might not interest EVERYONE to know how the creation process for a Marvel Comic worked, but for people who are themselves writers or comic artists, this is a fascinating inclusion!)

Why did I bring all that up? Because I want to impress on people how DIFFERENT these stories are to the other Marvel books I’ve read from this era, most of which were drawn by Jack Kirby or Don Heck—things like The Fantastic Four and The Avengers. Ditko’s entire MOOD is different from those other guys… And I’m not sure exactly how much I liked it. I mean, this is DEFINITELY where we get Spider-Man, and it’s surprising how fully formed he seemed to be as soon as he popped into existence. Within these first eleven comics we get a great many of the KEY elements of the Spider-Man universe that we still know today: Aunt May (although she is NOT Marisa Tomei! Aunt May in these stories looks like a skeleton or mummy, like she’s about a hundred years old—and she is SICK a lot; in one dramatic story, she even ends up in the hospital in need of an operation, and Peter Parker has to FAKE some photographs, which seem to suggest that he may be a bad guy, just so he can sell them to The Daily Bugle and help pay for Aunt May’s medical expenses!) Speaking of The Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, millionaire owner of that prestigious paper, arrives in issue #1 of The Amazing Spider-Man, and he HATES the web-head, right out of the gate.

Also appearing in these first few books are some of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. In these pages we find Flash Thompson (the school bully and primary rival for all of Peter Parker’s early romantic interests), the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, and the Human Torch (from The Fantastic Four, who is also a teenager, and therefore has a serious rivalry with Spider-Man, especially because Spidey sees the Torch driving around in fancy cars and dating attractive women, while he is poor, nerdy, can’t really get a date, and lives with his doddering old aunt—and not in a fancy penthouse!) That’s a pretty significant number of well-known villains to show up in fewer than a dozen books! Ditko and Lee knew how to create quirky characters, and they were on FIRE with these early Spider-Man stories…

Now here’s where we get to the parts that I didn’t enjoy as much. First off, these stories are often depressing—and MEAN. Have you ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon and thought, “GAWD! Why are they so awful to poor Charlie Brown? All he wants is for people to like him!” Well, that’s not what’s going on here. I mean, the kids at school definitely pick on Peter Parker—but he’s kind of a jerk. Peter is quick to anger, vindictive, and says some terrible, hurtful things. He’s known as a smart-ass to most of us who like Spider-Man as a character, a quick-witted jokester who is almost always portrayed making snarky comments while he’s engaged in his various battles, but he is ALSO usually kind and…well…“good.” The Peter Parker in these early stories, however, is constantly hitting on girls, yelling nasty things at Flash Thompson, faking various photos to sell to make money, and even, in one particularly unpleasant moment, he considers letting Flash Thompson die at the hands of Doctor Doom, just so he doesn’t have to deal with Thompson anymore. The look on Peter’s face as he’s thinking about this is genuinely disturbing. He contemplates, “What a break for me! The FF will never agree to Doom’s terms, so all I have to do is keep out of it, and Flash Thompson will never bother Peter Parker again! Things are finally going my way!” Eventually, he decides to do the right thing and save his high school rival, but…. Can you imagine Tom Holland’s Spider-Man even contemplating such a horrible possibility—let alone grinning from ear-to-ear while doing it!? Nope. We think of Spidey as a good guy now—but this original version can be pretty nasty. Not ALWAYS, but frequently enough that it made me uncomfortable.

[From issue #5]

Another complaint that I have, and this one might just be my personal bias, is that the “EVIL VILLAINS” here (with the exception of Doctor Doom, who isn’t technically a Spider-Man nemesis) are fairly petty. Sandman, Electo, the Vulture, and a few lesser lights are all, truthfully, just crooks with gimmicks—robbing and stealing. Simple motives—not much narrative interest for me. The Lizard and Dr. Octopus are a bit more complex, falling more into the “take-over-the-world” mold, which is marginally more entertaining—and one story, which probably seemed like hard science-fiction at the time, involves a robotic computer, called the Living Brain, which threatened not only to reveal Spider-Man’s true identity to the world (utilizing its complex logic circuits to discover who he really was) but also tried to murder all of the kids at Peter Parker’s high school when an attempt to steal the Living Brain went bad, and the crooks accidentally activate the machine’s defenses—wildly swinging metal fists!

Overall, the stories here are pretty standard comic book affair, I THINK, although to be honest, I’m not sure EXACTLY what the comic landscape was like in 1962! (I wasn’t even born until 1972!) From what I’ve heard (from Stan Lee and others, in documentaries like Comic Book Confidential), people liked Marvel Comics at the time because of the HUMAN elements of the tales. The fact that Peter Parker was picked on, that he had money troubles, that his aunt could become ill and need medical attention, that things didn’t always go Peter’s way (hardly EVER)—these types of “real life” plot elements supposedly hadn’t been in comics before. These tales were more relatable than Superman, the impossibly strong, flying alien—or Batman, the millionaire playboy detective, who could build any gadget or machine he needed. Parker is always broke, and his web shooters, although still basically magical, (especially in these early stories where he can make everything from snow shoes to parachutes out of webbing,) they DO sometimes run out of fluid leaving him in dire situations. As hard as it may be to believe today, Marvel Comics were more REALISTIC than the competition was (!!!), and people really responded to this new STYLE of comic storytelling.

I would definitely say that these are IMPORTANT stories, and that what Ditko and Lee created with these first few Spider-Man comics DID have a massive, lasting impact on popular culture. For this reason alone, it’s probably worth reading this book, just to see how it all began. Ditko’s art is janky and weird, and the faces and figures he drew can be both terrifying and humorous, and I enjoy that weirdness. For the artwork alone, this book is probably worth the price of admission, even if the stories didn’t really appeal to me as much as some of the other books I’ve read from this era. It’s completely possible that these WERE exciting tales when they first appeared, but that the plots have been told and retold so many times that they’ve lost their initial GLOW. I’m willing to admit that. These stories were also Comic Code Authority approved, so there’s nothing in here that’s going to be offensive to ANYONE (even though Peter is a bit of a creeper, when it comes to women. He’s desperate for a date, until maybe issue 7 or 8 when he sparks up a romance with J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary!) So, historically and culturally, this is important work—but personally, I’m more of a horror / weirdo / cosmic nonsense fan—unless the story I’m reading is SERIOUSLY FUNNY. I’ll read just about anything if it makes me laugh!

[From issue #10]

Alright. Enough from me. Go read a damn book…

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

[P.S. – This post originally appeared on my Steemit blog on 16 Sept. 2019!]

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“Rose City Comic Con 2019” by Richard F. Yates

This year’s Rose City Comic Con ran from Friday, Sept. 13th to Sunday, Sept. 15 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. Several months ago, my wife (Mariah) and I bought tickets for Sunday the 15th for us, our older daughter (Frankie), and her husband (Alec). (We bought the tickets for Frank and Alec because THEY had bought Mariah and I tickets to go see Adam Savage a few months ago, which was a great time, and we wanted to pay them back. We bought SUNDAY tickets because we’re cheap—even though Sunday has reduced hours (it was only open until 5:00 P.M.) and there are fewer folks in costume, fewer celebs in the house, fewer panels to choose from, and people’s energy levels are generally lower—but there are also less people to bump into, which is essential if you’re rather neurotic and not comfortable having people touch you… (I admit, a lot of the time we spent looking at the various booths was just me running from crowded areas into less crowded areas. We window shopped at a LOT of the less busy spots just because there were fewer people at them for me to avoid!

So early Sunday morning we got ourselves all dolled up (Mariah wore her kitty-themed Supernatural shirt, and I put on my Mr. Flibble Red Dwarf tee and my Bigfoot short-sleeve button up—stylin’!), and waited for Frankie and Alec to arrive and grab us. (They also brought baby Felicity—it was her first con—who was wearing a Star Wars themed onesie…) Once they arrived, we piled in the vehicle and headed south towards Portland (stopping only once, to get coffee—of course…)

Traffic on that rainy Sunday morning was light, until we got to Portland, where traffic is ALWAYS bad. (Not Las Vegas or L.A. bad, but pretty bad.) Parking is also always an issue in P-Town, but I thought, MAYBE, since it was Sunday, we’d be able to park at the Convention Center…but no. That lot was sold out—and the one across the street, which was charging $25.00 to park!!!!, was ALSO full! We drove around for a bit, and finally found a lot a few blocks away that was “only” $20.00 for the day—which is still insane JUST FOR PARKING! (We spent more money to PARK than we did buying things at the con!) Once we’d got ourselves parked, we hoofed it, in the rain, with the baby (although newer strollers have things, like a ROOF, that the strollers that we had when our kids were little didn’t!) the couple of blocks to the convention center, AND, because we were with a baby in a stroller, we got ushered into a side door instead of having to walk through the whole line like the normal folks! (It pays to know the baby!) (By this time, we were all very wet, and neither Mariah nor I have fancy shoes with things like water-proof-soles, so our feet were wet for the rest of the day…)

BUT WE’D ARRIVED AT RCCC!!!

We hit the restrooms, Alec grabbed some programs, and we got to work figuring out what we wanted to do first. Mariah and I are big Harry Potter fans, and we noticed that a panel, “15 Potter Topics in 50 Minutes,” was going to start soon, so we basically ran (I don’t really run—I shamble somewhat quickly) through the main exhibition hall—INSTANTLY becoming overloaded by all the sights and costumes and foot-traffic and booths and merchandise—to get to the other side of the convention center, where the panels were being held. We got seats just as the talking began, and we sat back and enjoyed being NOT-the-most-nerdy-people-in-the-room (for once) for a little while. About five minutes into the panel, which was about how wizards are basically crazy and the Harry Potter universe makes no sense—but in a good way—the baby decided she was offended by all the negativity directed against Hogwarts and got grumpy. Frankie and Alec tried to quietly slip out of the room (not entirely successfully), and Mariah and I were mostly on our own for the rest of the day. (Frank did send us notes and pictures, every once in a while. She went to a panel with Wil Wheaton and was excited that she got to ask him a question, and she sent some photos from a Star Wars photo-op where she and Alec and the baby were in a trash compacter. Those were pretty funny!)

After the Potter talk, Mariah and I decided to just wander for a bit. Honestly, these conventions are so big and there is so much to look at and do, it can be completely overwhelming. We looked at a bunch of booths, wandered for a long time, and saw a million things that we wished we’d had enough money to buy—but we were REALLY good and only spent THREE BUCKS all day! (We found some vintage looking Halloween postcards! We love Halloween.)

We were also quite entertained by what looked like a DROID PETTING ZOO!

In fact, there were several places that were set up as photo-op spots, with clever backdrops and even character actors, like Thor or Captain America or various Star Wars characters, who you could have pose with you. We saw one area that had a Ghostbusters theme… (I love Ghostbusters…)

We kept wandering—looking at artist booths, occasionally writing down names of folks in my little notebook (I always carry a notebook) or grabbing business cards… When we’re rich (which should be pretty soon), we’re going to order a bunch of artwork and prints from various folks that we saw and add to our (somewhat small) art collection. We don’t collect art for INVESTMENT purposes—we buy stuff that we LOVE and want to SEE on our walls! It makes us feel good to have stuff we like around us, AND buying from independent folks, artists who are just trying to make a living, also makes us feel like we’re helping THEM. Mutually beneficial. Mariah saw one lady who paints with various TEAS, Melissa Pagluica, and we wrote her name down to look her up online later. Maybe order something from her, once we get paid again… And, I always stop to talk with artist, Jimmy Mahfood, whenever I see him at a convention. I always love his art style!

As we made our way across the universe, my shitty back started to hurt, so we went to look for a place to sit down, maybe eat some crackers that we’d brought with us, and take some pain pills! (Always plan ahead and bring what you’re gonna need!) What we FOUND was the Portland Retro Gaming Expo room where they had a bunch of old console machines hooked up to television sets that people could just sit at and play. I eyeballed an old Genesis machine and took a crack at Sonic the Hedgehod 3—which was released in 1994 and MUCH harder than I remember it being! We sat and rested and snacked, and Mariah and I each had some ibuprofen, and chilled out for a bit, while I banged my head against Sonic for a few minutes. It was pretty fun. There were quite a few people in this area, lots of kids playing old games, which was cool to see.

Just outside the door of this console gaming area was the Ground Kontrol retro arcade room, with all the games set to “FREE PLAY,” and while Mariah went off to find a restroom, I played a little Battle Zone. I WANTED to play Donkey Kong, but the machine was always busy… Then—I found LADYBUG!

I destroyed the previous high score, more than doubling it! (Are you impressed by my skills on this weird Pac-Man knock-off that almost nobody remembers?) And I always use “DAD” as my initials when I get a high score—but that’s only because I can’t figure out how to make GRANDPA in three letters. I’d use “GPA,” but then everyone would just think I was super proud of my grade point average. (I DID graduate magna cum laude when I got my degree, by the way, but who really cares about THAT stuff… {cough}.)

Once we were done saving the digital universe (I only played one game of Ladybug, and although Mariah wanted to play some pinball, all the machines were constantly busy,) we headed back towards the main exhibition hall—but bumped into Frankie and Alec on the way and talked for a few minutes. They seemed to be having a good time, and the baby was doing well. Then we went our separate ways again, and it was back into the CRUSH for us! We moseyed around the killing floor, looking at more fun stuff, spotted the Art Horse / Bonemill booth (run by a couple of friends of ours—they comped me a copy of their new penny-dreadful / pulp style BOOK, which I’ll be reviewing in the near future), and we eventually made our way back towards the side of the building for the next panel discussion. (It was time for another Harry Potter talk…) We spotted a few great costumes on the way.

The second panel we attended was called “DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?!?,” and it was a discussion of the differences between the Harry Potter BOOKS and the FILMS. There are a LOT of differences. One of the interesting things about these fans, though, is the arguments they get into over which version was BETTER! Fun talk. Very spirited!

Directly after that panel was one, called “Pop Art, High Art, and Comics,” about how famous artists, particularly Roy Lichtenstein and sometimes Andy Warhol, would “borrow” comic art for their work—and how these artists would make MILLIONS off their paintings, but the original artists who created the original images often remained completely poor and, even worse, entirely uncredited for their creations! Interesting topic. Sad, but interesting…

By this point in the day, almost 4:00 P.M., Mariah and I were getting tired. We half-heartedly headed back into the main exhibition hall, then tried to get in touch with Frank to see where her group was. We decided to meet them by the video game area and call it a day. While waiting for the kids to arrive at the Ground Kontrol room, I snapped this image of a cool dragon boat hanging from the ceiling, although to be fair, I THINK this is ALWAYS at the Oregon Convention Center, so it wasn’t really, “officially,” part of the con…

And that was our trip to RCCC! We slowly hobbled our way back to the street, walked to the parking garage, and then fought traffic until we got out of the city. As we were all hungry, we swung by a Mod Pizza in Vancouver on the way home and munched, then headed north on I-5 until we landed back in our town. (Did you ever read that play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder? It a good one. I’ll have to review it one of these days!)

Mariah and I had a great (but tiring) time, and we decided that the next comic convention we go to we’re going to be SURE that we have extra spending money with us. We both saw a great many pieces of art that we would have loved to buy—but we just didn’t prepare for it! I, personally, was looking for more old school trading card packs to buy (like the ones that I got at the Cowlitz Gaming Expo—and then DESTROYED for a post!) However, the only trading cards that I saw were Magic the Gathering, and that wasn’t really what I had in mind. (I was thinking more like Mork & Mindy or Goonies or Weird Wheels, but none of the booths that I looked at had anything even CLOSE!) To be honest, there weren’t even THAT many booths selling comics at this comic convention. Lots of folks selling t-shirts and cell phone cases, Funkos and prints or original artwork—but the conventions these days just aren’t like the ones that I used to go to back in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, which were mostly comic shops and vendors who brought a bunch of books in and sold them at a slight discount, with maybe one or two big time celebrities or well known creators who you could get autographs from, but mostly they were just folks buying and selling comics!

Still, we DID have a great time—but that’s easy to do when you’re with funny people who you enjoy being around, whatever the occasion! (It’s why Mariah and I get along! We’re both laid back and chill, most of the time, enjoy a good laugh, and we’re both super-nerds, who will go to not just ONE, but TWO Harry Potter fan discussions! Mariah is even thinking about going to a Harry Potter themed Yule Ball being held in Portland this December… I’m not 100 percent sure about that one, personally, but if she thinks it will be fun, I’ll go with her!)

[A rare image of me and Mariah. I’m not very photogenic, so I usually just POINT the camera at other far-more-interesting stuff, instead of making people look at my ugly, gray-bearded mug!]

Not sure what our next big adventure is going to be—maybe a trip to a pumpkin patch?!? Whatever it is, I’ll try to get some exciting action photos and then tell you folks all about it! Deal? Okay. We’ll see you later!!!

[P.S. – This post originally appeared on my Steemit blog on 16 Sept. 2019!]

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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“Read a Damn Book – 155: Bleach Volume 4”

Read a DAMN book! We’re back, baby! After a more than two week hiatus, and writing that post about going to the library book sale where I talked about how valuable reading is, I realized that I needed to shift my focus (mostly away from Minecraft), and get back to sharing the printed word! For this review, I thought I’d look at another volume of Tite Kubo’s Bleach, the series about a teenage boy who can see ghosts and eventually learns to fight monsters, but it’s been so long since my last look at this story, I thought I needed to revisit the series starting with book one. (I have already reviewed the first three volumes: #1 on 24 July 2018#2 on 5 Dec. 2018, and #3 on 15 Feb. 2019—the latter of which was SEVEN MONTHS AGO! Time certainly flies!) Thankfully, the books are fun enough that I didn’t mind rereading them, and easy enough to get through that it only took me a few days (even though I read VERY slowly, and I haven’t been putting as much time into reading lately as I should—except at night, when I read stuff on my Kindle because of my severe insomnia. I woke up at 4:30 this morning, after going to bed around 11:00 P.M. last night and reading for a while before falling asleep! BUT that’s not what you’re here to read about!) Sooooo, let’s get to the review!!!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Tite Kubo – Bleach Volume 4 (2004) [Translated by Joe Yamazaki]

Like the other books that I’ve read in this series, Volume 4 continues the minimalist cover concept—white background, logo, and a character—this time including an image of a fellow who we assume MUST be important (important enough to be on the cover), but who isn’t even introduced until the last few pages of this book. Because his story isn’t really what this book is about, let’s just get him out of the way quickly. His name is Uryu Ishida, and like the main character of this series (Ichigo), Ishida fights and kills Hollows (which are monstrous evil spirits that eat souls, both human and ghost.) For some reason, Ishida hates Soul Reapers—the folks who USUALLY fight Hollows. (We find out why he hates Soul Repears in the next book—although I can’t remember the reason… It’s been nearly ten years since I last read this series, and my memory ain’t that great!) So, we meet the guy on the cover in the last few pages of the book, but we don’t really learn much about him in this volume…

What we DO get in these pages, however, are two pretty good stories. The last volume was very dark and gloomy, and ended with Ichigo experiencing his first real failure as a Reaper, so THIS book starts with a humorous story focused on Kon, the walking talking teddy-bear. It’s a quick little tale, but it’s pretty funny and serves as a tension breaker and breathing spot before we jump into the next adventure. (Although I should say, this story is a bit cringy, both because of some scatological humor and for a bit of creeper-esque sexism…)

The second story, which makes up the bulk of this book, is about a popular television psychic, Don Kanonji, who comes to town to film an episode of his show. Ichigo, who can see ghosts himself, isn’t impressed by what he figures is a fake spiritualist and publicity hound, but most of his friends and family LOVE the guy. In fact, a majority of the people that Ichigo knows end up going to the abandoned hospital where the psychic’s television show is supposed to be filmed, and they drag Ichigo along… However, Ichigo quickly realizes that a REAL ghost is inside the building, and the spirit isn’t happy. In fact, it’s right on the verge of turning into an evil, destructive Hollow—and Don Kanonji’s filming is only making it worse.

This entire episode is fun and funny, with the over-the-top antics of Don Kanonji making up most of the humor. He does seem to have some ability to see ghosts, but he is completely unaware of the existence of Hollows, and so his “performance” threatens to erupt into real violence and death, if the creature that he’s about to unleash makes its way into the crowd of people who have come to watch the filming. It’s a nice mix of humor and tension, and Kubo’s black and white line drawings do a great job of conveying the frantic nature of the scene. Kubo uses action lines, irregular panel shapes (not just traditional squares or rectangles), and scribbly / squiggly exaggeration on both the characters and the lettering in this section, which throws the reader off balance and adds to the tension of the story. Both visually and story-wise, this is an exciting story-arc.

One thing I do want to talk about, and I realize this might just be a cultural thing, is the concept of “courage,” as it’s discussed in this story—and unfortunately, it’s a bit…sexist…although that seems a bit too strong of a descriptor. In a number of places (throughout the Bleach series) Ichigo says he wants to PROTECT his sisters. He wanted to PROTECT his mother, as well. Ichigo’s father, who tries to shield his daughters from a shower of glass caused by an explosion, says (on page 112), “If Daddy can give his life for his darlings…he’ll die happy.” Right before he passes out. Men (and boys) protect—women and girls need protection. This happens over and over again in this series.

Even Rukia, the Soul Reaper who teaches Ichago about Hollows, and is MUCH older than the teenage body she’s inhabiting would suggest, NEEDED Ichago’s help in the first volume of the series to defeat a nasty monster, which is why he is now a Soul Reaper, too. In this volume, as Ichago and Rukia are trying to get into the hospital to stop Don Kanonji from disturbing the angry spirit, they are tackled by a bunch of security guards, and Ichigo yells for Rukia to “shake off” the guards holding her back and come help him. She says, “Why don’t YOU shake them off! You’re a guy, aren’t you!?” (page 75.)

In other words, guys are strong—women aren’t. Even though Rukia, herself, is much older and a far more experienced Soul Reaper than Ichigo is. In terms of tactics and experience, she SHOULD be his superior, but she still thinks—because he’s a guy—HE has to be the STRONG one.

I realize this is just a silly, action comic about fighting monsters, but it’s still frustrating to see comments like this being so prevalent throughout the series. And it’s why seeing characters like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer are positives, in my opinion. Brute strength isn’t the same thing as courage, and males sometimes need PROTECTING, too.

So, with that bit of nastiness out of the way, I’m going to say that most everything else about the book is pretty good. It’s funny, the art is good, and the action sequences are well done. In addition, this book is rated “T” for “Teen,” which means there isn’t any cussing or splatter-gore or overt sexual content (so if those are what you’re looking for, I’d recommend From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell…) But if what you want is an entertaining, somewhat silly, book about fighting monsters, Bleach is pretty dang good…and (if you stick with it) the story develops in some really weird directions over the next SEVENTY volumes!!! (I have not read them all…)

Okay! Later skaters!!!

[P.S. – This review was originally posted on my Steemit blog: HERE!]

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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“I’m Seeing Rabbits!!!” by Richard F. Yates

A few nights ago, during my closing shift as a delivery driver, I was traveling down an ill lit stretch of road when I, momentarily, thought I saw a large (like golden retriever large) RABBIT run across the road in front of my car…

Perhaps I was experiencing a bit of MICROSLEEP… It was almost 11:00 P.M., and I was getting pretty damn tired. I THINK what happened was a beam from a dim streetlight hit my dirty windscreen (I never wash the damn car, though I probably should), and the pale, orange light slid across the semi-foggy window surface, just as I was half-drifting into a microsleep state, and my mind interpreted the light as a giant rabbit running across the road in front of the car…

I jumped in my seat, half applied the breaks, then realized that there was nothing ACTUALLY THERE, (or perhaps it WAS a giant ghostly or interdimensional bunny that I was only able to perceive for a few seconds), and—breathing a bit quicker than seconds before—I continued my drive back to the pizza shop…

But now, definitely more awake, I was LOOKING for rabbits. Every bush, every shadow in every alley I passed, every ruffled curtain in every darkened window was another bunny. I was PRIMED to experience the mysterious…

And when I reached the next stop light, I grabbed my pocket notebook from the passenger seat and wrote, “I’m seeing rabbits!!!” in big scrawly letters on the page. (It was my only entry for that particular day.)

So, in a few years, when I end up in the courts pleading for my right to walk the streets as a free man, and not spend the rest of my life in an institution, and the STATE enters my pocket notebook as evidence for my mental instability, specifically the note written on 22 Aug. ’19, when I claimed, “I’m seeing rabbits!!!”, maybe one of you can testify in my defense and explain that I KNOW it was just an hypnogogic hallucination and not the onset of a mental breakdown… If you could do that for me, it would be great!

(And let’s just hope they don’t find the note I’ve carried around in my wallet for the last several years that reads, “The squirrels are gathering!” That one’s a bit harder to explain…)

—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool)

[P.S. – The image is colored Sharpie and silver paint pen on reclaimed cardboard with digital embellishments and color manipulation. 2019.]

Gracias!

This piece was originally posted to my Steemit blog, 24 Aug. 2019, using Partiko Android

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“51 Tons…I Mean TUNES…” (Music Playlist) by Richard F. Yates

Wow… It’s been THREE MONTHS since my last playlist. Time seriously flies once you get to a “certain age.” (I don’t know if I’m even having that much FUN! I mean, I AM, for certain, enjoying being a grandpa and making art and writing stories and listening to music—but literally, as I type this, I’m sitting with an icepack on my back. I threw my spine out of whack yesterday—get this—opening the dishwasher! Not fighting a crocodile or lifting a flipped car off a trapped driver or hurling a nuclear warhead at an asteroid threatening to pulverize the Earth… Just opening the freakin’ dishwasher!!! “What does this have to do with MUSIC?” you might be asking. And I’ll answer, “Screw you! It’s my blog, and I want to write about my hurt back! The fact that this is the only post I’m going to have time to write today, and it happens to be a MUSIC PLAYLIST, just means you get a little EXTRA with your tunes! So shaddup!!”)

So, it’s been three months since my last playlist. That’s too long. I’ve been LISTENING to lots of music, but I’ve spent so much time writing and arting (and working on webby stuff) that I’ve neglected my music lovin’ followers. Sorry! Let’s remedy that right now.

Lately, I’ve been watching this fellow on YouToob, Todd in the Shadows, who does these great music reviews, including a recurring segment that he calls, “One Hit Wonderland.” What I LIKE BEST about these videos is his wide ranging, non-genre specific tastes. He covers ‘80s new wave, he covers ‘90s pop, he covers ‘60s psychedelic tunes, he covers’ ‘70s soul singers…along with some modern reviews of current hits. I appreciate that eclectic, open selection, and additionally, he’s funny—which goes a long way in my book. Some of the “one hit wonder” bands that he covers are also some of my favorite performers (Butthole Surfers, Wall of Voodoo, Thomas Dolby, Dexys Midnight Runners, Dead or Alive, Falco…), and even though those bands mean a LOT more to me than their single Top 40 hit, it’s pretty cool that he’s keeping their memories alive (even if he doesn’t always “like” the band! Come on Todd! Wall of Voodoo are AWESOME!!! They just take a bit of getting used to…) But give his channel a look if you want some nice, extensive dives into some great and (regrettably) sometimes forgotten or overlooked GEMS!

Meanwhile, inspired by Mr. In-the-Shadow’s OPEN selection process, and IGNORING genre restrictions and eras completely, I’ve put together a list of 51 great freakin’ songs that are mostly upbeat and fun, and a bit ALL OVER THE PLACE. I’ve got country and techno-country, lounge and punk and pop and dance and industrial and goth and yacht rock and indie-pop and hip-hop and nu-rave and ska and goofy novelty cuts—and lest we forget that it exists, that one time where an upcoming rap band and a famous but flagging rock group got together (thanks to producer, Rick Rubin) and created a weird, super-fun, RAP-ROCK cross-over hit! (Remember that? When Run-DMC and Aerosmith made a remake of “Walk This Way” together? That was great stuff!)

I love all of these songs…

Hopefully, there will be a couple tracks in here that are new to you, and maybe a few that you’ll actually enjoy. (I’ll try not to let three months slide by before doing my next playlist!) But, in the meantime, give this mix a try… (Oh, by the way, the first cut in this mix is the album version of “Wot” by Captain Sensible—who started his career as the bass player for first-wave British punk band, The Damned, before going wonderfully insane—and there is about a minute of noodling and talking before the music actually starts. To ME, this intro is funny. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn too many people off. And, even if you DON’T make it the full THREE AND A HALF HOURS through the playlist, I recommend looking up “Yoda” and giving it a listen. It’s a weird, lounge-punk novelty song by The Punk Group, a Portland, Oregon, synth-punk comedy band who I’ve seen live a few times. They’re brilliant and offensive and weird, and this cut is HILARIOUS!!!)

Another interesting note… I have been looking for the song “Got to Keep On” by Cookie Crew since 1990, when I first heard this weird mix called “The Brit’s 1990 Dance Medley,” which played on a local radio rebroadcast of a show called Rock Over London. I eventually found the 12” single for the medley, which is AWESOME and I love it, but there is, at best a 30 or 40 second snippet of Cookie Crew in that mix… Finally, just a few weeks ago, TWENTY NINE YEARS after I started looking for this song, I got my hands on a USED copy of Cookie Crew’s album, Born This Way, on CD. The rest of the album is pretty fun (if you like things in the L’Trimm or Edelweiss or Mel & Kim sort of vein—which I do!), but “Got to Keep On” is THE SHIT! Nearly three decades of searching, and it was worth EVERY PENNY I spent to get that one track. (Good luck trying to find your own copy!)

Okay, let me get out of the way already and LET THE MUSIC PLAY! (Dang… I wish I’d put THAT on here… Remember “Let the Music Play” by Shannon? It was a funky, electro, r&b breakdance hit back in the ‘80s… Shit… I’m doing it again… Quit reading my ramblings and just go listen to the music already!!!)

[To hear this mix, for free, in its entirety, (if for some reason you can access the PLAYER that’s supposed to be right about this paragraph) you can visit the 8tracks playlist on the site itself. You don’t even have to download anything. Just hit “play.”]

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“51 Tons…I Mean Tunes…” (Playlist) selected by Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool)
Approx. 3 hours, 38 minutes

  1. Captain Sensible – “Wot”
  2. Fishbone – “Everyday Sunshine”
  3. Phantoms – “Be Just Fine”
  4. The Neon Judgement – “TV Treated (DJ Hell Remix)”
  5. Jan & Dean – “Sidewalk Surfing”
  6. Praga Khan – “The Power of the Flower”
  7. Wolfsheim – “Find You’re Here”
  8. Clan of Xymox – “Jasmine and Rose”
  9. The Strangeloves – “I Want Candy”
  10. The Associates – “Green Tambourine”
  11. A3 – “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
  12. Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Sixteen Tons”
  13. Me First and The Gimme Gimmes – “One Tin Soldier”
  14. Hepcat – “No Worries”
  15. Blues Image – “Ride Captain Ride”
  16. The Slits – “Ping Pong Affair”
  17. Freezepop – “Less Talk More Rokk (Guitar Hero 2 Mix)”
  18. Moonlight Matters – “Come for Me (feat. Gustaph) (Punks Jump Up Freestyle Remix)”
  19. Le Castle Vania – “Tigertron (feat. Factory Aire)”
  20. Alphaville – “Forever Young (Hamel Album Mix)”
  21. The Crytal Method – “Keep Hope Alive (MSTRKRFT Remix)”
  22. Depth Charge – “Shaolin Buddha Finger”
  23. Alex Chilton – “With a Girl Like You”
  24. The Clash – “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”
  25. New Order – “Face Up”
  26. The Presets – “My People”
  27. Atari Teenage Riot – “Midijunkies”
  28. Cookie Crew – “Got to Keep On”
  29. Eurythmics – “Beethoven (I Love to Listen)”
  30. Bloc Party – “Flux (JFK Remix)”
  31. The Cribs – “Men’s Needs (CSS Remix)”
  32. Echo & The Bunnymen – “People are Strange”
  33. Dexys Midnight Runners – “Show Me”
  34. Fake Blood – “Mars”
  35. Esquival – “Latin-Esque”
  36. Yello – “Electrified II”
  37. They Might Be Giants – “Purple Toupee”
  38. Nitzer Ebb – “Murderous”
  39. The Prodigy – “Need Some1 (Jim Pavloff Remix)”
  40. Fugazi – “Waiting Room”
  41. The Magnetic Fields – “Long-Forgotten Fairytale”
  42. Nena – “Just a Dream”
  43. Killing Joke – “Follow the Leaders”
  44. Crimpshrine – “Summertime”
  45. Ministry – “Over the Shoulder (12” Version)”
  46. Blur – “Under the Westway”
  47. Grant Lee Buffalo – “Mockingbirds (Original 4-Track Demo)”
  48. The Virgins – “Love is Colder Than Death”
  49. Basslovers United – “Basket Case (DJs from Mars Remix)”
  50. Run-DMC – “Walk This Way (feat. Aerosmith)”
  51. The Punk Group – “Yoda”

Yeah—that’s a FUN playlist. I lean pretty heavy on the “alternative” quadrant of music, but I’m happy with the mixture. It’s a nice, upbeat, energetic selection (some songs heavier than others, a few dip a bit into more moody territory, but even those cuts are cool—and I think they work with the other selections.) I’m a fan of the “train-wreck” transition, too. Gotta keep the folks guessing!!!

Alright, that’s me for today. The artwork, as always, was mine—a digital drawing made in the free “Paint” program that came with my laptop. Thanks for visiting!

Later, skaters…

[This playlist was originally posted, 22 Aug. 2019, on my Steemit blog!]

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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“Why am I Playing MINECRAFT???” by Richard F. Yates

So—as an artist and a writer, it’s important to know how to manage your time properly, right? Am I right???

And, knowing that I have half a dozen projects in the works, I probably spent this weekend working on new paintings or editing one of the books I’m trying to complete or finalizing the rules for the R.P.G. I’m creating or reading a new novel or comic for my next review (which is what most folks REALLY like from me—sorry they take so long to finish! I’m a slow reader!!!) or doing something equally productive and useful—right? Surely, I didn’t just fritter away my weekend… (Yeah, yeah, I know, “Don’t call me ‘Shirley.'”)

Nope. I played Minecraft… For HOURS!

The weird thing is that I never really played the game much before. Maybe a few times a couple of years ago (mostly on Xbox 360), but the younger daughter and I have been watching a few well known YooToob personalities who have been playing Minecraft lately, and it looked like fun (again.)

As it turns out, the game IS fun!

But WHY is it so entertaining? What is it about the game that makes it so enjoyable? I’ve thought about it for quite some time, and I’ve come to a tentative conclusion, (partially to explain to my wife why I’ve had my nose buried in a laptop screen for two full days!)

When I was a kid, my favorite toys (besides books and records, which I’ve always loved) were the ones where you MADE stuff: Legos and Lite Brite and Robotix and Capsela and Spirograph and Micronauts and even Lincoln Logs and Tyco race tracks (you could combine several different sets and make these weird, looping, tracks…) I liked using the toys to CREATE…

And in Minecraft, you can BUILD to your heart’s content!

Sure, there’s adventuring, and taming animals, and growing crops, and robbing nearby villages, and fighting monsters, and blah, blah, blah—but those aren’t the parts of the game I like. I go mining, but only to quarry enough cobblestone (one of the most common materials in the game) to make my weird, castle-like structures. I don’t care about conquest or getting rich or defeating the big monsters, I enjoy the building!

I started by making just enough of a hut to survive through the night, and then I started expanding—adding rooms, building UP, making staircases and oddly shaped balustrades and connecting various structures with bridges. Then—and this is where I really started to have fun—I started adding torches and trying to create creepy lighting effects.

For those who have never played the game, Minecraft has an accelerated TIME frame (one full day/night cycle lasts about 20 minutes!) During the day, your character is relatively safe and can move around the landscape harvesting resources, interacting with animals and villages, and building in peace. At NIGHT, however, the MONSTERS come out.

At first, this is frustrating because if you haven’t crafted any weapons, or a house (or some kind of shelter), then the monsters WILL KILL YOU! Makes it hard to build stuff if you’re dead. However, once you’ve got a nice, safe house and some protective items (armor, weapons, a shield, etc.), walking around at night isn’t so scary—AND it’s when all the torches and campfires and landscape lighting that I’ve built look the coolest…

Here are just a couple photos of what I’ve built, so far. (I don’t know how to take a screenshot, yet, so I took these images of my laptop screen with my phone. Sorry about the glare from the window behind me!)

[Ha! I just realized you can see my Greatest American Hero t-shirt in these photos!]

I don’t know how to do anything FANCY, yet, but I’m having fun building my own, personal amusement park. I love the look of the torches glowing on the ground… And there’s even a moon that comes up and glows behind the buildings sometimes… It all looks very cool (to me) and especially odd with all the wild animals wandering around the grounds!

I THINK I can even learn (eventually) how to tint glass different colors in the game, then I can create a GIANT Lite Brite building and make some truly crazy designs… (I’ll do an update when I get something cool, like that, built.)

It’s maybe not REALLY art, to some folks, but it LOOKS like art to me! (It’s VIRTUALLY art, right? And in a digital world, virtual art becomes JUST ART! Right?) I think, and other folks will undoubtedly know if this is possible, I can send invites to folks to visit my Minecraft “world,” once it’s fancy enough for me to want to share it, and they can come run around in my amusement park—I could even call it a VIRTUAL GALLERY SPACE—and see all the stuff I’ve made…eventually…if I can figure out how to do it…once I’m ready…

And THAT’S why I spent the last two days playing Minecraft. It was fun, and I got to create a little virtual world! My creations aren’t as fancy as some of the Minecraft worlds I’ve seen—but I’m just getting started. Learning, experimenting, seeing what I can do with this toy, and so far, it looks like I’ll be able to do a LOT!

—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool—and Old-School Gamer!)

Originally posted to my Steemit blog, 26 Aug. 2019, using Partiko Android

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