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Another Stupid Top Ten List

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

This was particularly tricky. It’s hard to list “pop” songs because “pop” as a genre is kind of nebulous. Do you include R&B? What about hip-hop? Pop punk? Rock? Dance? Electronica? There’s a lot of things you could label as “pop”, even things that are simply popular, but I tried to go for things that were generally dance-oriented, or specifically written in the pop style, with the three-minute-or-so length, catchy hooks, and an emphasis on vocal melody over intrumentalism.

Since I have the self-imposed limitation of “things on my computer”, I left out some “obvious” choices like Micha Read more…

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Dracula, Illustrated by Ben Templesmith – Review

July 14, 2009 Leave a comment

UPDATE 7/27/2009: I got word today from Mr. Templesmith that the Poe collection I refer to in this article has been canceled. Apparently he did a cover for IDW, but the project never took off. While that makes me sad (I had it all pre-ordered from Previews), he just announced a new project with Ben McCool called Choker, and it, as per usual, looks gorgeous. Ben describes it thusly: “Well, for one thing, it’s sort of like FELL, but with it’s face ripped off and a bad dose of gonorrhea.” This makes me squee in my fanboy heart.

Also of note, I actually finished reading Dracula. The ending is a bit lackluster to me, but overall I enjoyed the book. I’ll have a fun time researching some of the themes when I get bored. All that said, on to the review proper:

There’s a comic book writer named Steve Niles, and chances are if you’re here, you’ve probably heard of him. He wrote a movie about vampires. He shopped it around a lot, tried to get it made, but no one in Hollywood wanted to make a vampire movie. So Niles changed his mind. He hooked up with comic illustrator/storyboard artist Ben Templesmith, and the two of them created one of the most popular horror franchises in comics: 30 Days of Night. The book got extremely popular, due largely to Templesmith’s amazing new visual concept of vampires. Based on that success, they finally got a movie deal, starring Josh Hartnett and produced by Sam Raimi.

Why am I telling you this? Chances are, if you’re here, you already know this. Thing is, Templesmith doesn’t really do vampires anymore. He’s moved on to werewolves and aliens, but rarely, if ever, does vampires anymore. I guess he’s got bloodsucker burnout.

Except.

Except now IDW Publishing, his primary publisher for his creator-owned works, has printed up a spiffy new version of that original vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And, lookee here, Templesmith has provided new original art for the cover, and each chapter. Can’t keep a great idea down. Who better to illustrate one of the best vampire tales of all time than the guy that helped resurrect the pointy-toothed bloodsuckers for a new generation?

For the purposes of berevity, I won’t be reviewing the literary content of the book. It’s 112 years old. Enough words have been written about it that anything I have to add has been already said ad nauseam. Instead, we’ll focus on this presentation of the book: the exterior design, the interior layout, and the interior art.

Exterior Design

The book is a convenient size, at 9×6 inches. I’m personally not a fan of hardcover (I find them difficult to comfortably read curled up in a chair), but at this size, it’s definitely managable. The cover itself is a black satin, with a gloss overlay for the cover art. The text is set in red on the black, in a pleasing, easy-to-read serif font. The title itself has an amusing double serif on a few letters, likely to mimic the fangs of the titular character. A neat touch. The back cover is entirely satin, though this time in full color.

My only issue with the cover is that the satin seems to take a shine pretty easily from even minor wear, giving the book a sort of mottled look. While this is a minor gripe, I feel like it would be difficult to keep the book in somewhat pristine condition without wearing cotton gloves while reading it.

I can’t easily tell how the book is bound. I can’t seem to find stitching. When viewed from the end, the pages seem glued much like perfect binding in a paperback, but grouped together like signatures in a normal hardcover. The closest I can tell is that the book is likely double-fan adehesive-bound, as it seems to lay flat, but I can’t be sure. (I realize this paragraph is a little book-nerdy, but binding style gives a clue to construction quality.)

From most outward appearances, the book is high-quality, and attractive. I imagine that it would look good sitting on a shelf in a store. Furthermore, this, coupled with the [now cancelled] Edgar Allen Poe project of a similar style from Templesmith/IDW, could make a nice piece of coffee table art or a display in a study or den. It just has an aire of a “nice” book.

Interior Design and Editing

This is where I feel a bit let down. While some of the details are quite attractive, like the typographic choices of font and titles (the chapter breaks a quite pleasing), and the interior coloration choices, such as the red for the title page, are quite stylish. Unfortunately, the book’s text feels like it was hastily done with a Microsoft Office template. The headers and footers seem like they come straight off a layout template, with their generic font and medium-gray color. This is furthered by the fact that each paragraph is set apart from the one previous by about half a line. While this practice works on the web, when indentation is introduced, the overall flow is broken up more than necessary. It’s not a rule, but it’s a traditional guideline: Indents or line spaces, but not both.

I’ve noticed more than a few typographic errors, and I’m only about halfway through the book. Missing spaces, misspelled words, unusual apostrophe use, and other things break up the readability of the text, which is rendered in a good, readable serif font. It saddens me that a book that looks so good seems to be run amok with by some bad typography design and questionable editing.

Interior Art

Let’s face it—this is the reason most people will buy the book. And they won’t be disappointed. Templesmith definitely delivers here, and considering most of his art books are comparably priced for a similar amount of art, one is basically getting a full prove novel in addition to their awesome art.

Being a fan of Templesmith’s work for a few years now on works like his own Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and Warren Ellis’ Fell, I can say that some of the work he presents in this book is easily some of the best work of his career. Some of the more surrealist, atmospheric works even seem to evoke the work of frequent Neil Gaimen and Grant Morrison collaborator Dave McKean.

My only gripe here is that some of the art depicting the character Renfield seems to be associated with the wrong chapters in a couple places, most noticably in chapters eight and eleven. Maybe it was for editorial purposes, but I think it was simply a mistake.

In any case, I direct you to Templesmith’s webpage for examples of his Dracula art (check the thumbnails on the left side of the page).

Conclusion

I picked the book up from Diamond’s Previews catalog, but the book can be had from Amazon for less than twelve bucks. It’s definitely a steal at that price, and at the cover price of US$16.99, it’s still a good deal. Catch this combination of two masters of vampire fiction together. Despite its defects, it’s definitely a attractive, enjoyable volume.

Note: If you have the means, you can catch Templesmith at the San Diego Comic Con July 23rd-26th. If you give him some money, he might even do a sketch for you.

What’s Rick Been Reading?

July 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Quick one today. I’m going to be out til early next week with visiting family, so I’ll give you this to tide you over. It’s our first-ever installment of What’s Rick Been Reading? Because you really want to know.

Rick’s Been Reading The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Tales by HP Lovecraft

Yep. Lovecraft. When I was just a little Rick, in elementary, junior high, and a couple years in senior high, I was a voracious Stephen King fan. I’ve always kind of been off-balance, but that part of me sort of sat on the back burner for a while. I’ve since gotten back into the bizarro world of horror literature, and have slowly absorbed a sizable portion of the work of the guy that created this guy:

Your sanity has a flavor

The Thing on the Doorstep also includes the longer works The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness, which are both really good, and the short story “The Music of Erich Zann”.

I don’t know if I prefer this to its Penguin Classics companion book The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. I like them both pretty well, but this one has fewer first-person stories with irritatingly archaic spelling than The Call of Cthulhu. I think the further along Lovecraft got into his writing, the less reliant he got on “telling” a story, as in first-person, and “presenting” a story, as in third-person. Granted, even in the third-person, he got into the “omniscient narrator” mode a lot, but it was still a step up from story after story of “I cannot tell you how much sanity I may have left!” or “Surely you’ll think I’m mad!” and statements approximating that sentiment.

In any case, I suggest both of these books. Once you get past the archaic spelling, the formulaic pattern of his early stories, and the racism/classism that runs throughout some of the works, they’re really good, creepy stories. There were a few points in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the titular “The Thing on the Doorstep” that I was well-and-truly creeped out.

Rick’s Been Reading Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez

For those who don’t know, Jhonen created this:

He also created Squee’s Big Book of Unspeakable Horrors, but I digress.

Johnny is… well, he’s a homicidal maniac. He’s also the writer and artist for “Happy Noodle Boy”. Jhonen somehow squeezes jabs at goth culture, jabs at high school culture, jabs at southern California, jabs at humanity, jabs at God, jabs at Satan, jabs at parents, and other various jabs at other various groups, bizarre Cthulhu-oid/Lovecraftian monsters, and still has room for profuse swearing. This probably sounds odd coming from the guy that, just last month, told you that PBS’s Martha Speaks is one of the best shows on television, but Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is one of the singular best creations in the history of comics. And this was in the mid-1990s.

The book is comprised, mainly, of the collected seven issues of the original series of JTHM, minus a few “non-necessary” comics (which Vasquez dubbed “Meanwhiles”), and some notes at the end. From what I understand, the “Meanwhiles” are collected into the aforementioned Squee. However, the “Happy Noodle Boy” pieces (which the character of Invader Zim seems almost totally based on) are included. The art is entirely black-and-white, and is extremely detailed. It uses non sequiter writing and art constantly. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly for the ADHD set, but it’s quite intense. I couldn’t read it for more than about half an hour in a single sitting, and neither can my wife. It’s very dense. Very, very dense.

But it’s all worth it. The misanthropy and general philosophy of the book are exceedingly dour and existentialist. Johnny’s loathing of both himself and society could probably be the work of a thesis paper, if it isn’t already. Really, if you’ve got one of those friends that seems like they always want to stab the eyeballs out of some customer service rep at a department store and you have no idea why, this book might help you understand that friend better. If you’re the sort of person that would stab eyeballs out… well, it’s probably for you. You’ll probably giggle with glee. I know I did.

But I laughed my ass off in Pulp Fiction when Marvin got his head blown off, so who am I to be the judge of what’s funny?

Anyway, there you go. This has been What’s Rick Been Reading?