The Infinities and more...
In 1998, comic artist Dylan Horrocks drew the definitive account of where comics had been and where it had gone. The new edition of Hicksville, complete with a newly drawn introduction, continues to be an angry little beauty of a book that takes the comics industry to task for its tendency toward simplistic tales, its corporate sensibilities masked as hipster entrepreneurism, and its almost unerring ability to damage the artists who contribute the most to its evolving form. Horrock’s accomplishes all this by telling the story of a fictitious comics historian named Leonard Batts who makes a trek to a small rural town in New Zealand known as Hicksville. This is the hometown of “Dick Burger”, the perfectly named comic book creator who has transformed his company into a billion-dollar multi-media enterprise. Each section of Hicksville opens with a quote from a major comics artist. Section one opens with a quote from Jack Kirby: “Comics will break your heart.” The new edition of Hicksville makes me hope that Horrocks will let comics keep breaking his heart for a long time to come. W. Scott Poole
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read
(Abrams Comic Arts)
This is filled with grisly nightmares from a time that many Americans peculiarly view as innocent and preferable to the present, but if the stories and art in this collection are any indication, there were plenty of scary things lurking within the collective unconscious of those who lived during the ‘50s, many of which found their way into comic books. Editor Jim Trombetta, a Shakespeare scholar and television writer, selected the work in this volume to reflect the spirit of the subtitle: “Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read!” These works date from the pre-Comics Code era in which violence, gore and sexually suggestive material, in the government’s eyes, contributed to the creation of legions of disruptive, belligerent and potentially Communist juvenile delinquents. There are dozens of covers included in this volume, a drop in the bucket compared to the number of comics that were produced in the years leading up to the Code. Some of these covers are complete stories themselves, and Trombetta “reads” them both literally and metaphorically, detailing the images, their symbols and their implications. Flipping through the pages, gazing at the amazing covers, recreates what it must have felt like clutching a dime, riding a bike to the drugstore or newsstand and seeing the stacks of comics, then going home to read them. Jeremy Estes
Hermes. Jupiter. A night of passion and a dying mathematician. These are the building blocks of John Banville’s The Infinities, a comedic novel loosely based on the story of Amphytrion, the stepfather (read: Zeus’ cuckold) of Hercules. Set in a large and (unsurprisingly) melancholy house in Ireland, Banville chronicles the adventures—and adventures they are—of the Godley family. Despite taking place over the course of a single day, Banville’s 15th novel is intricately woven, picking up from where Heinrich von Kleist left off. Although at times the prose is a little dense, and arguably overwritten, the conceit of Hermes as narrator holds up remarkably well; the imperfections of both gods and men make the characters, in all their confused and dysfunctional glory, appealing. Peta Jinnath Andersen
Jayne Anne Phillips
Nominated for a National Book Award, Lark and Termite pays homage to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, with its lyrical prose and haunting, vivid details. Set half the time in ‘50s West Virginia (the other half in South Korea), Phillips’ novel tells the story of teenage Lark and her younger invalid brother, Termite. Their Aunt Nonie, a tough, righteous woman whom Phillips depicts as unrelentingly as she does generously, cares for the two. Termite’s father, Corporeal Robert Leavitt, trapped in a tunnel during the Korean War, ties these worlds together with his unforgettable struggle and journey. Phillips’ has said the idea for the novel came to her some 30 years ago. Thankfully, the idea lingered and now we have a remarkable story about love and family and the lengths humans will go to survive. Lark and Termite has that unique ability to linger in the way the very best books should. It’s cut like a diamond, as Alice Munro says. It’s a gem, a gift from one of the best writers of our time. Jaime Karnes
Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, recently reissued by the New York Times Review of Books, was first published in 1955. It remains shockingly contemporary. Moore’s work is reminiscent of Barbara Pym’s, only where Pym enjoyed mocking her amusingly foolish characters, Moore’s Judith is frighteningly pathetic. This being Ireland in the ‘50s, the Church holds tremendous power. Judith, fallen to the lowest depths, lacking a helping hand, repeatedly goes to church seeking some sort of help, be it human or divine. She waits for a sign. When none appears, she begins doubting the faith that heretofore defined her life. Appeals to Father Quigley are useless. Left to her own devices, Judith finally shatters, and is neatly disposed of, a shell of what might be. This is one of the saddest books I’ve read in 2010, a book that should send you calling that maiden aunt of yours or perhaps AA. Don’t forget to take a good, long look at the novel’s cover, a masterpiece of terrifying, exquisite design. Look closely, lest you miss the woman blending, literally, into the wallpaper. She merits your attention. Diane Leach
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