Currently Watching / Quote of the Day : PULP FICTION The Golden Age

I am currently watching PULP FICTION: THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCI FI, FANTASY AND ADVENTURE, courtesy of Youtube and Roku (the only way I watch a Youtube video), and it is just a riveting watch. If you are a fan of books and writers or simply history, and 20th century Americana, this deep dive into the early years of a uniquely American art form, pulp fiction, you will be riveted by this feature. It is less than an hour in length, and get past the incredibly hokey opening, it gets serious and informative and impressive, very quickly.

 

There is a line in the feature that, while being a patron of pulps and pulp writers and knowing this to be true, still actually gave me chills to hear it so succinctly laid out.

 

‘The fascinating thing about the writers who were working in Pulps, was they were writing what was considered disposable fiction, trash. I mean, most of these stories you’d read them and throw them out, and yet… the top writers in these fields, whether Westerns or Science Fiction or Horror or Mystery, they are now considered the literary giants of the 20th century.’

—Marc Zircee, Historian

That line gave me chills. And it is still the case. The writers who are moving the needle here in the still early days of the 21st century, are writers who wrote in under appreciated genre fields.

Similar to successful pulp writers Ray Bardbury, Issac Assimov, Harlan Ellison, Walter Gibson, HP Lovecraft, Sax Rohmer, Dasheil Hammett, L Ron Hubbard, Raymond Chandler, Norvell Page, Cornell Woolrich and Stan Lee (who as a kid started writing pulp stories in the comics, 20 years before he and a cadre of artists would give birth to the revamped Marvel Comics) and others who survived the brutal starvation years of the pulps, and did not join the mass of such writers… who died young and broke, but continued at it, to write, and write, and write, and transition their forward looking pulp sensibilities to the new mediums of radio, and television; that is what is happening today.

 

And not to be remiss the pulp artists, both cover artist and interior were equally important. They gave the astounding, jaw dropping artwork that got you to stop and pick up the story, and the spot illustrations that powered you through it. And like the pulp writers of the day, the artists were woefully underpaid and horribly overworked to barely eke out a living. Most died broke and unknown, with their work not even credited by the publisher, but a few rose above the carnage of those years to create work that is remembered, geniuses like Norman Saunders, J. Allen St. John, Elliott Dold, George Rozen, Jerome Rozen, Rudolph Belarski, Frederick Blakeslee, John Newton Howitt, HJ Ward, Virgil Finley, and the criminally neglected Barye W. Phillips who did one of the best pulp covers ever with FANTASTIC #1 from 1952. I will be doing an article on the artists in an upcoming installment.

The pulp work… wins out.

The perseverance and love… wins out, and those trash/pulp writers of the 20th century are the ones who are celebrated and rediscovered today, where the ‘serious’ writers are largely forgotten and unread by the masses.

The pulp writers who were pushing the needle in the 20th century, with fast, hard,ugly, brutal, and imaginative tales that did not fit the sensibilities of the ‘serious fiction’ of the day.

That unruly challenging and imaginative fiction they were writing then… about our basest desires and wildest hopes remains…. today, still relevant. The way Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN will always be relevant, the way Shakespeare will always be relevant, the way Chester Himes’ Digger and Coffin Joe, will always be relevant. Because people then, as people now, understand the extremes of hope and despair, and that is the place pulp writers evoked for us best.

Now the modern equivalent are writers such as Stan Lee and Alan Moore and Frank Miller and Pat Mills and Neil Gaiman and Mark Olden and Warren Murphy to name a few.  People who slaved away in the late 20th century in the looked down upon realm of Comics or Pulp novels, but wrote about our hope and our fears writ large, modern myths to reflect our modern fears. And like always men who define the conversation of the extreme (the dreamers), in their own time, end up defining the conversation of the masses for their children’s time.

And today we have a new generation of talented pulp writers. From Dennis Lehane to Walter Moseley to John Ridley to Derrick Ferguson to Thomas Ligotti to John Jennings to Joe Hill to Charles Saunders to Percival Everett to John Sanford to Collin Whitehead to Victor LaValle to Richard Gavin to Ed Brubaker to Christopher Priest to Warren Ellis to Brian Michael Bendis to Robert Kirkman to Al Ewing to Eric Powell to David Walker to name a few.

Serious Fiction talks about what is, Pulp Fiction uses the past, present and future as allegories to talk about who we can be, when we screw our courage to the sticking place. And as such it will always be a place waiting for us… to discover.

I hope you like this post. if you did subscribe, give a like or comment. 

A word about subscribing, there are a lot of demands on our time, too much for all of us to be aware of all the cool people and cool things, we might like to be aware of. Wednesday Words was a well received feature I did years ago, and it was just a quick touch on people whose name and work you may want to have on your radar. Subscribing will get you, every two weeks a very short, but very informative edition of WEDNESDAY WORDS.

So if you haven’t subscribed, please do, and bring a friend with you. Collaborating, especially in these oft marginalizing times… seems like the right answer.

And for now, go to Amazon or your local bookstore or library and check out the writers mentioned in this piece. Till next time… be well!

 

 

What I’m Reading: FABLES, Cornell Woolrich, GOON, JLA, ESSEX COUNTY, KRIGSTEIN

Well currently have a bunch of books either in rotation, either just finished, on their way to being finished or about to start.

Among them:

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES by Cornell Woolrich. I’m coming in on the home stretch of this one. I own just about everything Woolrich has written. Made a big dent in his short story collections, and now working my way into his various novels.

A prolific writer, getting through all his novels will probably require more leisure time than I have, but I’m giving it the good old college try. He is easily one of my top ten writers, possibly the top 5, I consider him, along with Chester Himes, one of the most important and influential American writers of the 20th century. He is as Francis Nevins Jr coined him… “A Master of Bleak Poetic Vision”.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES is not his best novel, (FRIGHT, THE BLACK PATH OF FEAR and RENDEVOUS IN BLACK, the three of his novels I’ve completed so far, are all better) but Woolrich in neutral is more compelling, addictive and just plain mesmerizing than just about any other writer at full speed.

More for how he says things than what he says.

He constructs, paints a picture unlike any other writer that I know of, living or dead. There’s a sense of discovery in his writing, he builds the world in fragments around you, sets the scene, like a picture slowly developing itself, so when finally his description coalesces into something familiar, he has given you this rare gift of seeing something known, be for a while… magical and unknown.

“And so- every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night about one, a little after.

Anything you keep doing like that, if you keep doing it long enough, suddenly one time something happens. Something that counts, something that matters, something that changes the whole rest of your life. And you forget all the other times that went before it, and just remember that once.”

And that ability is in effect in NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, about a man trying to save a woman, from the irresistable pull of stars. However, I recommend newbies to the world of Woolrich to start with the novels I previously named, or with his short stories. Go to my page on recommended Short Stories (in the column to your right)and you’ll see some recommendations.

****

B.KRIGSTEIN is an oversized, very hefty tome by Greg Sadowski on the artist Bernard Krigstein. Perhaps most well known by those reading this, for his work on EC comics in the 50s. But Krigstien went on to have a more commercial career, followed by a fine arts career. I just browsed this one and didn’t quite captivate me, no sleight against Krigstein I’m perhaps not the audience for his art. So worth a look if you’re a Krigstein fan, others may want to give it a pass.

****


THE COLLECTED ESSEX COUNTY- By Jeff Lemire, this was spoken of with quite a bit of acclaim, so picked it up from my local library. It’s a very thick and nicely designed trade by the publishers, TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS. A wonderfully evocative graphic novel, collecting three distinct but intermingled stories. With an eye toward minimalism, Lemire with cartoony but deft lines, unfolds tales of a small Canadian town and the lives that grow up and out of it. I’ve read the first two stories, and it’s good, though it doesn’t for me live up to the hefty accolades. But it is impressive story telling, and a heartfelt tale of common lives, that are never really common. I think if you can get the collected edition for a good price, it’s something, in line with Matt Kindts’ THREE STORY, both forlorn memoirs, that you’re going to want on your bookshelf, to browse through from time to time. A recommended buy. Grade B.

DARK HORSE BOOK OF THE DEAD- Yet the latest in this Dark Horse series of Anthologies, each covering a specific topic in Horror. This zombie one being the weakest and least satisfying of the reads so far. None of the stories leaving much of an impression. Worth a look if its in front you, but not worth hunting down.

JLA AMERICAN DREAMS- Not enjoyable Howard Porter Art, and not interesting Grant Morrison stories.

FABLES # 1-5, This is my second time trying to give this heartily praised series by Bill Willingham a try. Like anyone will tell you the first trade, not particularly interesting. Trades 2 and 3 are better, I would call them good. Trade #4 is the first one that I would go so far as to say I really liked. mainly for the opening story, which was great. But Trade #5 descends back into just feeling like spinning wheels, I’m slogging my way just to get through it. So by the end of trade #5 you’re talking 33 issues, over 3 years of story. So clearly fables isn’t my cup of tea. 33 issues and I really find none of the extensive cast particularly interesting, likeable or compelling. I even have trades 6 thru 9 sitting here, but just can’t work up any interest in reading them). So I think I’ll call it a day on this series, as I have tons of other things to read. I’m just glad I got to read these trades for free at the library rather than purchasing them. Your mileage may vary, but for me and this series it’s game over.

****

GOON- Now a series that is working for me, and is living up to the hype is Eric Powell’s loony and lunatic THE GOON. I’ve read three trades back to back, VOL 2 MY MURDEROUS CHILDHOOD, VOL 3 HEAPS OF RUINATION, and CHINATOWN AND THE MYSTERY MR. WICKER. I’ll avoid the play by play, except to say they are fantastic. Fun, frenetic, with every crazy assortment of monstrosity and menace, and at the heart of it, a life hardened palooka, who in the best YOUNG GUNS tradition, understands the meaning of pals. Best praise I can give this series is after reading these trades for free I’m going to buy a nice collected hardcover of them. Nuff said.

All for this installment. Check back later for more.

Richard Matheson’s HELLHOUSE: An Audio Book Review

hellhouse
It was the film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN that did it, put the name Richard Matheson on my radar.

I don’t know if any writer can claim to be as hauntingly adapted to film as Richard Matheson. Sure there are more oft adapted writers (Stephen King- speaking of who, you can see a definite similarity between the two writers. Matheson a definite influence on King’s introspective style ), there are even better adapted writers (Cornell Woolrich), however there is something in the viewpoint of Matheson’s writing, in the nature of it, that lends itself to filmmakers and films, committed to making us ruminate long, and dig deep.

His I AM LEGEND in all its forms has been cinema gold. That lone THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN film remains a timeless masterpiece, a 50s scifi property of somehow existential dread and implications.

I mean what it is it about a Matheson property that sets it as clearly distinct from the herd? In the oft predictable genre field, Matheson’s work while not ignoring the cliches, somehow side-steps them, somehow is always intimate and personal dissections of us. If for Shakespeare the play was the thing, for Matheson it was the people. It was what they said of themselves, and what they said of us.

Despite the premise, it’s always character that carries the day in a Matheson property.

The character of people, even the character of a house.

Which brings us to… HELLHOUSE. HELLHOUSE in all its various forms captivates. The successful THE LEGEND OF HELLHOUSE starring Roddy McDowall being an example (which bares a striking similarity to the Robert Wise film/Shirley Jackson novel THE HAUNTING). The film is such an erudite genre film, informed and informative, and passionate about us, an atypical ghost story to be sure.

Which brings us to the audio book. Narrator Ray Porter does an excellent job of convincingly occupying the diverse cast of characters, creating for us a compelling world. However that said, Matheson’s main protagonist, the scientist Dr. Barrett, becomes so pig headed, and stupid, that by the third part of the 8 part audio drama, I couldn’t take it. I wanted to reach into the audio book, and kill the guy. UrrrrGGHHH!

To hold onto his preconceptions and prejudices in the face of staggering evidence to the contrary, what Barrett does, is not science. It is in many ways dogma, something very akin to religious mania, but just supplanting blind faith in a God, with blind faith in scientific process (God by another name). Dude is crippled, but in the head, rather than the body.

Seriously the guy was so frustrating, like these idiots in slasher films who stay in a haunted house, or makeout at a grave yard. You’re like… “yeah you’re too stupid to live.” So by the third chapter it was frustrating me too much to continue listening to it. I might try finishing it later, but any book that loses me in midstream like that, I can give you my take on now. Cause even if the remaining 5 chapters are brilliant, it is not going to help. Once I lose interest or concern or even compassion for the characters… I’m done.

So a well read book, Porter’s delivery is completely compelling, and it moves from scene to scene without padding, without fluff, but my praise of Matheson’s characters aside, it is the character of Dr. Barrett that loses me.

I can’t keep company with staggeringly pig headed people. Not even for the length of an audio book.

So definitely worth a listen, but if you have a temperament like mine, you may want to skip out on buying (especially if it is an encrypted WMA file. Screw that nonsense). Try it out at your library for free, or borrow it from a friend.

Upcoming Richard Matheson Audio Book reviews will be I AM LEGEND and DUEL.

Recommended Links: Paula Woods, Dwayne Swierczynski, Cornell Woolrich, Charlie Huston

Here it is.

Sure sign of the apocalypse… a blogger recommending other bloggers and related pop-culture sites.

But seriously my bookmarks tend to get very bloated over time, so this exercise is more than anything to help me define what sites I should keep, and that I need to visit more routinely. And if in addition to that stated purpose; this overview also comes as handy and helpful guide to one of you reading this… then so much the better.

Okay onto it:

sdbheader3SECRET DEAD BLOG– I have only read one thing by writer Duane Swierczynski, and that was his MOON KNIGHT annual of a year or so ago. What I read impressed me, and as his blog shows he has impeccable taste in all things pulp and horror, I try to remember to peek in on his site occasionally. Good stuff. Of his books, I think I’ll give his WHEEL MAN, THE CRIMES OF DR. WATSON INTERACTIVE BOOK, and MURDER AT WAYNE MANOR INTERACTIVE BOOK a try wheelman011007drwatson(I was a fan of those choose your own adventure books as a kid. So these sound like they would make good presents for nieces and nephews. I’ll have to read them and confirm they are age appropriate). But with a stack of books that includes 4 Chester Himes books, 12 Cornell Woolrich, 3 Charlie Huston, 1 Walter Mosley and my usual mountainous stack of comics and magazines…it may be a bit before I get to WHEEL MAN. We’ll see.

THRILLING DETECTIVE– This site covering all things noirish, hard boiled, and pulp-fiction inspired has for about ten years been a regular member of my bookmark lists. It is just a staggering and valuable resource for all mystery fans out there, whether your particular poison be radio, movies, tv, comics or dare I say it… novels. And with their extensive link section it really is your one stop shop for anything mystery related. Highly Recommended!

Hard-Boiled Forum recommendationsThis is actually an old Bulletin Board thread, but has some really nifty recommendations for Hard-Boiled books and films. I’ve tried a sizable # of the recommendations.

bestcwjapanWoolrich TimelineI consider Cornell Woolrich to be one of the most phenomenal writers of the 20th century, his writing style transcends what he writes about, or transforms it… so that acts of murder or the mundane become instead, in his words, dizzying moments of grace, or alien acts of birth. He is the pragmatist as romantic, and thankfully his output (writing under 3 different names) was nothing short of staggering. And he was one of the few writers who was as good at the novel as he was with the short story, which gives me quite a body of work to sample. I find this page very helpful in determining the chronology of Woolrich, and therefore the next Woolrich story to go hunting for. rendbal

SAVAGE CRITIC Blog– You know when I’m looking for comic reviews, I’m not looking for long, spoiler filled dissections. Keep it short, keep it simple, tell me if the book was bad, good, or great; and a general idea why. This site run by Uber-Retailer Brian Hibbs, does just that. Arguably the best review site on the web, easily the most navigable. No Flash, No Javascript… just getting to the point.

spooks_spies_mimg Paula Woods is a reviewer/editor turned acclaimed mystery writer. A few years ago (wait… has it really been 13 years?!), Paula Woods put together one of my favorite anthologies in 1995’s SPOOKS,SPIES, AND PRIVATE EYES: BLACK MYSTERY, CRIME, AND SUSPENSE FICTION OF THE 20TH CENTURY. Along with Harlan Ellison’s DANGEROUS VISIONS it’s one of the best anthologies I’ve come across, and long overdue. Long out of print it’s a title I always pick up copies of, when I come across them, usually to hand out as gifts. Both historically relevant, as well as plain intriguing you might find it an equally compelling gift for the Mystery Lover in your life. Highly Recommended!

Fascinating article on the surge in Black Mystery writers.

Interesting Writers conference happening next year

caughtstealingsmallAnd let me just wrap this surprisingly time consuming post up, with a recommendation on what I’m reading right now. I’m 59 pages into Charlie Huston’s first novel CAUGHT STEALING. In a word… phenomenal. Terse, effective, almost stream of consciousness in how information is presented, 1st person narrative, that toys with time and perspective, to gripping effect. So far CAUGHT STEALING is a home-run. that completely works.

Okay that’s all for now. More later!

FAVORITE TV SHOWS OF ALL TIME!!! Spenser for Hire, Justice League, Firefly

The RECOMMENDED READS page (look over at the column on the right of your screen) has been updated

with reviews of Cornell Woolrich’s FRIGHT, recently published by Hard Case Books after being out of print for fifty years. And also a status review of CROOKED LITTLE VEIN by Warren Ellis and published by William Morrow.

*********

Now onto TV stuff:

My recent exposure to what passes for good television these days, garbage like LOST, and the new BIONIC WOMAN and insert Reality TV show here, has left me for an appreciation for the great TV shows of yesteryear.

So here’s my list of great Television shows (in no particular order):

NYPD BLUE Just the first season with David Caruso. The forerunner to the rash of police procedurals currently polluting the airwaves.

HOMICIDE Love this series. Caught everything but the last season. A tremendous show.

BABYLON 5 – People may gripe these days about MJ Straczynski’s comic book work, and the complaints aren’t unwarranted. But what ever issues of the present or the future his work may contain, his past is beyond reproach. His BABYLON 5 being the most ambitious television show ever. A man’s singular vision turned into a novel, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It’s the kind of vision that is lacking in “make it up as you go along” shows, such as LOST.

SPENSER FOR HIRE– Love, love, love this series. It’s a crime that it’s not available on DVD.

All SPENSER FOR HIRE images are by Dave McCraken

And real quick I’m going to rant: There is some art floating around, whenever you pull up info on this series (I’m not going to reproduce it here, because it annoys me, but click here to see it or here), showing some doctored up picture of Spenser and Hawk, with Hawk being positioned so he’s like six inches shorter than Spenser.

What the f*** is that? The following pic is how Spenser and Hawk look on the show:

It may seem like a simple thing, but it really isn’t. Like anyone whose done advertising, or product placement can tell you, ads are meticulously thought out. And the fact that such an obviously out of scale picture (to anyone who has seen the show) is occurring on multiple sites, has become a defacto standard… seems and is… odd.

Odd in the same wacky way that every network station at the same time decided to call people refugees who are not, or insurgents… who are not.

America is funny that way. 🙂 . It’s this wonderful nation where people call coincidence, what can only be design.

Avery Brooks is 6’1, Robert Urich was 6’2. A negligible height difference, but the picture makes it look like Hawk is a much shorter man. However both the character Hawk and Spenser were always portrayed as the same height. About 6’3ish.

So where does this box-art come from misrepresenting Avery Brooks and the show? Where does the idea of that come from?

That’s like doing a picture of me beside Avery Brooks and having me tower over Avery, it’s just as much bs. There’s great photos of the two of them from the 60 plus episodes they did, and they are always the same height. Yet someone is going to photoshop in this obviously… flawed picture. Just coincidence? Accident? Could have just as easily been Bob Urich misrepresented as shorter?

Come’on!

Someone made a conscious choice to misrepresent the heights of the two stars. Not coincidence, not a mistake, but a choice.

But why that particular choice? Maybe someone is cockeyed? 🙂 .

I don’t like pointing out this nonsense. I don’t like the fact that there is still nonsense like this to point out, but there it is. The media has grown and continues to grow more skewed, not less, it really is very much spiraling into minstrel like days. But subtly. Unfortunately, I catch subtle.

So I’m going to call a fowl when I see a fowl.

It’s very much like when Ford Motor Company had an advertisement showing all their engineers, and they photo-shopped out all the Black engineers for European distribution. It made the national news, so feel free to look it up if you don’t believe me. Was that coincidence? That big choice, and this little one… the same choice.

And some of you make say I’m making mountains out of molehills. But when one sees as many molehills, time after time, as I have… they tend to add up… all by themselves; to a looming mountain.

Molehills, the little lies we integrate into our world and self-view, create and recreate our reality. What men like Maslow and Berger called the Social Construction of Reality.

It’s how our enemies are made, and our friends.

Social construction of reality. We learn quietly, invisibly to absorb these minor molehills without question, so by the time we should question the really serious issues, we have accepted too much… to question the steps that have brought us here.

Bigotry and using the media as a weapon, is alive and well, and it’s not going to go away because we stick our heads in the sand, it just grows when we do that.

So when I see BS, especially involving my favorite show. I call it BS. And this is a case of BS.

Here endeth the rant.

For anyone who wants a free SPENSER FOR HIRE review guide just contact me. I’ll provide them to the first 10 emailers free. It’s a great series and deserves to be remembered correctly. If for nothing else, as the series that launched a young Samuel L Jackson. (in a bit part where he gets roughed up by Hawk. Great stuff!)

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WEREWOLF– I recommend just the premiere. Beautifully done, but the later episode are cheaply done and don’t go anyplace.

SIMPSONS– I lost interest a few seasons ago, but the first few were great!

SANFORD AND SON– My favorite comedy show of all time!

DEEP SPACE NINE– Brutally sabotaged by stations like Sinclair Broadcasting on initial airing, on DVD you can reexamine this series, and it builds to a brilliant conclusion. Like Babylon 5, and unlike the other Trek shows, this series actually has a wonderful storyarc. It may even on the broad scale, be superior to Babylon 5 (which had stronger individual episodes), making it one of the greatest series ever.

FARSCAPE– This was a FANTASTIC series, unfortunately killed before it could come to it’s conclusion, but the episodes we did get are stunning. All driven by the phenomenal, and at times heart wrenching performance of Ben Browder. If DEEP SPACE NINE and BABYLON 5 are in a tie for first place, this show is solidly in 2nd place as my favorite sci-fi series.

FIREFLY– I’m not a Whedon Fan. I could take or leave his BUFFY and his ANGEL. And while not a flag waving fan of FIREFLY, I thought it was easily his best show, possibly for it’s brevity. It didn’t get a chance to out stay its welcome ala the X-FILES. And had an interesting take on tomorrow.

QUANTUM LEAP– Women love this show. And in another life, a woman turned me on to it. And I have to say she was right. It’s a great, great show, much like FARSCAPE powered by Heart Wrenching performances by star, Scott Bakula.

CHAPPELLE SHOW-This is not even just brilliant comedy, it is the most courageous examination of the American id ever aired. A fantastic two seasons.

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD– John Carpenter’s mythic redefining of the Robin Hood myth, brilliantly brought to life by two phenomenal directors, and a young, hungry, and brilliant cast. And at the same time a wonderful mirror on the 80s age that spawned it. Easily in my top 5 shows of all time.

MIAMI VICE– It’s slick MTV style is old hat now, but this was the show that did it first and best. This and CRIME STORY make a great one, two punch.

JUSTICE LEAGUE helmed by Dwayne McDuffie is one of the best cartoons ever made. And for a guy who grew up on cartoons, that’s saying a lot.