This Summer’s “Must-Read” Book

This summer’s “must-read” (according to People magazine and other critics): The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (Ecco, $25.95). Take a first novel about a mute boy and his dog written by a 48-year-old Colorado software designer. Add rapturous reviews.

Then include a quasi-mystical moment involving Stephen King, who picked up the advance bound manuscript and started reading.

The reason? “I really don’t know. It just called to me. Sometimes they do that,” says King. His subsequent blurb begins: “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.”

Released June 10 with a first printing of 26,000 copies, the novel is in its 12th printing with 170,000 in print, a large number for a first novel by an unknown writer.

“It’s one of those magical books, like Water for Elephants,” says Cathy Langer, lead buyer for Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstores. “The word of mouth has been huge.” It’s not just dog lovers. “It’s speaking to a lot of different people’s hearts.”

“It’s the Cinderella story we’re all so proud of,” says the book’s editor, Lee Boudreaux. “It’s such an wonderful, old-fashioned read. … You lose yourself in this book.”

She mailed the manuscript to King although she knew “he gets tons of galleys.” They met while working on the 2001 novel Black House,which King and Peter Straub co-wrote.

Set in rural Wisconsin, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle tells the tale of a young boy mute since birth. With his dogs, he confronts family secrets, tragedy and danger.

Like his protagonist, Wroblewski grew up in Wisconsin, where his parents tried dairy farming and running a kennel. His first memory at age 2 is of the family collie, and dogs remain a crucial part of his life.

The book’s success “has been just jaw-dropping,” he says. He has been too busy giving readings and interviews to celebrate.

As for his famous fan, Wroblewski says he and King have e-mailed. “We’ve exchanged thank-yous. I’ve been a bit tongue-tied. And I’m star-struck.” (From USA Today)

 

My Favorite Year by Stephen King

The best year for me ran from July of 1999 to July of 2000. I’d been hit by a van and busted up. I was in a lot of pain, but never so glad to be alive. Books never meant more to me, nor did writing. The best books, mostly read in bed or after hobbling to the nearest chair on a pair of Canadian crutches, were the Harry Potter novels — I read the first three in 1999, and they just took me away (I remember wanting some of that miraculous Skele-Gro stuff that the Quidditch players got after midair collisions). That was also the year I read Hannibal, and was bowled over once again by the sinister clarity of Thomas Harris’ prose. It was the year I read Amsterdam by Ian McEwan and Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (the latter in galleys). The year of Close Range, Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories. All of these seemed like miracles to me at the time.

It was also the year I wrote On Writing, the bulk of the work being done post accident. That was a terrible, painful process, but the work itself seemed like salvation. Seeing that on Entertainment Weekly’s book list makes me happy. (Reprinted from Entertainment Weekly)

Bad Asses By Mark Todd

Mark Todd graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in 1993. He then moved to New York City, working with clients such as Mtv, Coca-Cola, Sony Music, The New Yorker and The MTA. In 2003, he moved back to southern California with his wife and fellow artist, Esther Pearl Watson and their daughter Lili, an avid artist herself. Mark also co-teaches with Esther at Art Center College of Design. His latest book, BAD ASSES is the authoritative visual catalogue of the baddest asses in pop culture. Three chapters cover guys, girls and the horses they rode in on. The zine is 104 pages and published by Blue Q.  It can be ordered here for $7.99.

Should Robin Be In Batman? Comic Legend Jeph Loeb Defends The Boy Wonder

The Internet fan community is in agreement: Do not, under any circumstances, put Robin anywhere near Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe, a world grounded in reality, where the laws of physics apply to hero and villain alike, where bullets wound and punches bruise. An acrobatic little kid in tights? Do it and I walk, Christian Bale even reportedly said recently.

Which is a little ironic, considering that one of Bale’s favorite Batman comics is “Dark Victory,” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. And who do you think appears as a critical character in “Dark Victory”? (Hint: He wears a red and yellow costume.)

So how do you reconcile the two disparate viewpoints?

“Take the time to tell the story properly,” Loeb told MTV News. “There is a story of Dick Grayson and how he becomes Robin that is extremely moving and very helpful.”

In the events of Loeb’s “The Long Halloween,” which preceded “Dark Victory” and served as a partial inspiration for “The Dark Knight,” the main characters are all left alienated and alone, bereft of even a little hope. It’s Robin’s presence that can change that for Bruce, Loeb argues, creating a father/son dynamic that can mirror Wayne’s relationship with his own dad. In short, Robin can teach Bruce how to be more human, Loeb insisted.

“It’s all about building the relationship between Bruce and Dick. Dick hates Bruce. He doesn’t understand why it is that he needs to do this and Bruce doesn’t understand why he’s doing it either because he’s not a parent. He doesn’t know how to be a parent,” Loeb said. “And together, they make each other better people. So that for me would be the next step.”

But for all the fans already crying out in horror just at the thought of it, Loeb isn’t actually talking so much about Robin as he is about Dick Grayson. In fact, the best Robin story might not actually have “Robin” at all.

“I wouldn’t let him become Robin until the third act, if that. I think that’s the other problem when you tell that story is that there’s this rush to put him in a costume by the end of the first 20 minutes and in that case I think it’s a disaster,” Loeb said. “So if you look at ‘Dark Victory’ Tim and I went nine out of twelve chapters before you even started to talk about putting him in a costume and he doesn’t put the costume on until the last chapter of that book.”

What do you think? Could Nolan and company take another page from Loeb and actually create a Robin that works? Or is the character completely and totally dead to you? (Reprinted From the MTV Movie Blog)

The Goon Coming To The Big Screen

 

Dark Horse Entertainment, David Fincher and animation house Blur Studios are teaming up to bring cult comic The Goon to the big screen as a CG-animated film. Created by Eric Powell in 1999, the comic follows the adventures of a muscle-bound brawler who claims to be the primary enforcer for a feared mobster. The stories have a paranormal and comedic edge to them and concern ghosts, zombies, mad scientists and “skunk apes.”

Powell, who broke the news Wednesday on his website, would write the screenplay for “Goon,” and Fincher would produce. No studio is yet attached, and deals are being negotiated. Dark Horse, which has a first-look deal with Universal, is aiming to develop the project in-house before setting it up. (From ComingSoon.net)

Original Comic Book Art Appreciates

Comic-book collectors like their numbers. They know that the first issue of X-Men, which introduced Marvel’s mutant superheroes, was published in 1963 and had a cover price of 12 cents. They also know that today a copy of that issue, in near mint condition, is worth $16,500. (Parents, take note.)

And while the market for back issues is well established, more and more collectors are turning their attention to the hand-drawn covers and interior pages that make up a comic book. This original art has become the focus of auctions with sale prices in the five and six figures. It’s a surprising turn of events for work that in the early days of the industry was considered so unimportant that it was used to sop up ink or spilled coffee, given away to fans or even destroyed outright.

The art eventually stopped being discarded, and in the 1970s it generally became policy to return the covers and pages to the artists, many of whom began selling it to fans and collectors, who are hungry for it.

Last month the cover of Weird Science No. 16, from 1952, drawn by Wally Wood, sold for $200,000. In February, an inside black-and-white page from the 1963 X-Men No. 1, by the influential Jack Kirby, sold for $33,460. Late last year, two color paintings by Alex Ross, used as covers for a recent Justice League story, were sold by his art dealer for $45,000 and $50,000.

In 2005, an auction for the black-and-white cover of Batman No. 11, from 1942, by Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson, closed at $195,500.

The sales reflect the range of what entices collectors: from the wide-ranging work of Kirby, the “King of Comics,” to rarities like the early Batman cover to lavishly painted depictions of classic superheroes by the critically acclaimed Ross.

“From the ’60s and the ’70s, when these markets were just beginning, it’s been shocking,” said Jerry Weist, 58, author of “The Comic Art Price Guide.” “And to the old-timers, we can hardly believe it. We felt vindicated when we started to see covers sell for five, six or seven thousand dollars in the ’70s. Now it’s gone beyond that. I’m pretty much priced out of the field.”

Collectors of original comic-book art sound like a subculture within a subculture, and that’s fine with many aficionados. “There was a thrill in finding something nerdier than collecting comics,” said David Mandel, 37, an executive producer of the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” who first bought original art during a visit to the San Diego Comic-Con in 1995.

Mandel has pieces that would make many fans drool, like the cover, by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum, of Giant-Size X-Men from 1975, which trumpeted Wolverine, Storm and others as the new incarnation of the mutant team, and the 1982 cover of Daredevil No. 181, by Frank Miller, depicting the death of Elektra, the title hero’s girlfriend. His collection also includes the last four pages from “The Killing Joke,” a seminal 1988 story that helped usher in a new level of maturity for comic books.

That Batman tale chronicles a possible origin for the hero’s nemesis, and was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. In November, the last page of the story became available at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. Mandel landed it for more than $31,000.

“The story ends with them laughing, taking a moment in their relationship to laugh,” Mandel said. “As a reader and as a comedy writer, it resonated.”

More so than with comic books – where multiple copies of even the most sought-after issue exist – the original art they are produced from satisfies a collector’s desire for the exclusive.

“If I have the original hand-drawn cover to, say, an issue of X-Men, that’s the only hand-drawn cover to that issue of X-Men,” Mandel said. “It’s one of a kind. Anyone who has a collecting gene can respond to that.”

The value of any original comic-book art begins with its creator.

“If it is Superman drawn by Curt Swan, it’s worth a lot more than Superman drawn by Joe Schmo,” said Joe Mannarino, who owns Comic Art Appraisal and All Star Auctions in Ridgewood, New Jersey, with his wife, Nadia.

Swan, who died in 1996, drew Superman regularly from the 1950s through the 1980s. The value of a page of his art is also contingent on what is depicted (Superman in action or supporting characters talking?) and whether the issue is significant. (First appearances and important stories are more valuable than routine adventures.)

An attempt to recapture the collector’s childhood comes into play, too.

“An awful amount of the money being spent is certainly connected to the baby-boom generation and their sense of nostalgia,” said Weist, the price-guide author.

Nostalgia is certainly something Ross, 38, is familiar with. His first major comic-book project was in 1994, for Marvel, and it retold the early days of the Marvel universe of heroes through the eyes of a photojournalist.

His reputation for photorealistic renderings of superheroes was cemented two years later by Kingdom Come, a lavishly painted comic that envisioned a future DC universe where irresponsible superheroes run rampant. The project pushed prices for his original art from hundreds to thousands of dollars a page.

“Images of DC and Marvel characters are the best sellers, bar none,” said Ross, who sells many pieces at alexrossart.com. “It’s also what I enjoy to illustrate the most. It’s what the buyers of similar backgrounds as myself want. They want the thing they grew up with.” (Reprinted from the International Herald Tribune)

The Origins of Ten of Your Favorite Muppets

I, like a lot of you, grew up on Sesame Street and the Muppets. But do you ever stop to wonder where they came from? Some of the characters we know and love today were recycled from other T.V. shows and commercials Jim Henson worked on and others were invented by using whatever materials were around. Be prepared for a little nostalgia and don’t be offended if I left out some of your favorites (I know, Big Bird?!) – not all of the characters have interesting background stories. Read more here.  (From Mental Floss)

 

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