In an earlier post I mentioned that I had started reading graphic novels, and that I had done so under the influence of I. N. J. Culbard. If you look at that earlier post, you'll see that most of his books, or at least most of the ones that I've read, were published by SelfMadeHero,
a British press that specializes in graphic novels. I browse their website from time to time, and so I've noticed that they publish, among other things, adaptations of classic works of literature.
What recently caught my eye was Rob Davis's graphic novel The Complete Don Quixote. I was already slightly familiar with Davis's work, since he adapted "The Dunwich Horror" in The Lovecraft Anthology, volume one, which was also published by SelfMadeHero. But his work as an illustrator was unknown to me. I figured that a graphic novel of Don Quixote would be a worthwhile read, and so I requested it through interlibrary loan at my local public library.
The book looks very nice, I think. Here are the cover and the title page:
Davis's visual style is simple and direct. Nothing fussy, nothing needlessly complicated.
Since almost everyone knows the story of Don Quixote and the windmills, I figured that I could include photos of it without spoiling anyone's fun. They'll give you a small taste of the book's visual delights.
Once again, simple and direct. Funny and charming too, in that sad way of so many of Don Quixote's adventures. The comic book sound effects help, don't they?
When I was in high school, I read an abridged edition of the original novel in my Spanish class; and when I was in college, I read an abridged English translation in a literature class. That means, unfortunately, that I've never read Cervantes' novel in its entirety in any language. My judgment of Davis's adaptation, based on what I have read and remember of the novel, is that it is a faithful one. He did a very fine job, I think, and so I highly recommend this book.
One mark of the success of any type of adaptation of a literary work is whether or not the adaptation leads us back to the original source material. After reading Davis's The Complete Don Quixote I find that I'd like read Don Quixote in its entirety.
So now I'm researching various English translations. (Is it my imagination, or are there dozens of them?) I'm even reviewing my Spanish for the first time in slightly over thirty years. I'll read the abridged Spanish edition published by Dover when my skill with the language is back up to speed, and I'll eventually read the entire novel in English. Since none of this was ever really an ambition of mine, I'd like to thank Mr. Davis for prompting me to take up Don Quixote again. I'm grateful for the inspiration.
I've been reading Lovecraft since I was a teenager, and so it was probably inevitable that I became a regular listener of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast hosted by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey.
When Fifer and Lackey discussed At the Mountains of Madness, they were joined by I. N. J. Culbard for a couple of episodes. I learned that Culbard had adapted and illustrated the story as a graphic novel. I was intrigued, even though at the time I wasn't a reader of graphic novels. Years ago I read Art Spiegelman's Maus, and, really, that was it. I didn't know much else about the medium. But I figured that it wouldn't hurt to try another one, and so I ordered a copy of Culbard's version of At the Mountains of Madness.
Well, that was my downfall. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which led me to read more of Culbard's work. Here's what I've bought over the past few years.
The Lovecraft books in my two photos were published by a British press called SelfMadeHero. Culbard not only adapted and illustrated At the Mountains of Madness, he also did double duty on HPL's "The Shadow Out of Time" and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. He illustrated "The Dunwich Horror" in The Lovecraft Anthology, volume one, as well as Deadbeats, a Jazz Age Lovecraftian story dreamed up by Fifer and Lackey.
The one non-Lovecraftian book in my photos, The New Deadwardians, is from Vertigo, a DC imprint. It's an alternate history of an Edwardian England populated with large numbers of vampires and zombies. Mr. Culbard illustrated a story by Dan Abnett, whose work was new to me. The murdered corpse of an aristocratic vampire is found on the banks of the Thames. Chief Inspector George Suttle of Scotland Yard, himself a vampire, is sent to investigate, and the story goes from there. Along the way the reader learns many things, but the greatest mystery is the origin of the zombie plague. How this is handled is very clever. My only criticism of the book is that it could have easily been longer, for the setup is so rich that the story could have been spun out at greater length, but as it is the book is a great deal of fun. I recommend it as well.
Culbard also illustrated adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's four Sherlock Holmes novels. I've read three of them, and they too were very entertaining. I have yet to read The Valley of Fear, but I'll get around to it eventually. My local library doesn't have it, so I'll have to get hold of it some other way, maybe through interlibrary loan.
So, you see, Culbard has piqued my interest in graphic novels. I tried to read a few of the DC New 52 books, but I have to admit that they didn't much interest me. I've nothing against superhero stories, but to my eye the artwork is overstuffed, whereas Culbard's visuals don't overwhelm the story and distract my attention from the tale being told. Call me an admirer, I guess.
Anyway, what inspired this post was Culbard's explanation of why he adapted H. P. Lovecraft into the medium of graphic novels. I can't say how this decision affected Culbard's life, but it certainly influenced my reading habits. I hope to read more of his work in the future.
In an earlier post
I took note of Hard Spell and Evil Dark, two urban fantasy novels by Justin Gustainis. I was very enthusiastic about them, and so I said that I was looking forward to the next title in the series. Well, Known Devil is available now, and it was no disappointment.
Stan Markowski, an officer in the Scranton PD's Occult Crimes Unit, is once again on the case. There's a new drug on the street called Slide, and it's been designed to hook supes, which is a major headache for the OCU, since up to now only goblins have been susceptible to drug addiction. Bombs start going off as out-of-town mobsters try to take over the local action, but the locals aren't going to give up without a fight. It's a turf war between rival gangs of vampires! To make matters worse, there are nefarious developments in local politics as the Patriot Party tries to stir up a race war against supes. In short, life on the mean streets of Scranton is totally FUBAR. Markowski learns, much to his chagrin, the truth of the saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.
I greatly enjoyed Known Devil. It's all in good fun, but once again not really suitable for children because of the graphic adult language. I've read all three books in the series
and I'm ready for more.
If you haven't yet read any of the titles in the series, I recommend that you read them in the order of their publication, i.e., Hard Spell followed by Evil Dark followed by Known Devil. You could read them out of order, but then you'd spoil a few of the surprises.
One last thing. Somebody somewhere must have bought the film rights by now. When can we expect to see Stan Markowski on the big screen?
Thomas B. Edsall discusses Thomas Piketty's forthcoming Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Apparently, Prof. Piketty's book looks at capitalism's tendency to generate inequality of sufficient extremity that it stirs up political dissent and threatens democratic values, or something to that effect.
Here's a video in which Prof. Piketty briefly summarizes his book:
This is definitely a timely book, one that I plan on reading as soon as it becomes available. I'll be sure to blog about it in the near future.
In twoearlier posts I wrote up a few thoughts about two of S. T. Joshi's Joe Scintilla mysteries. I've been working my way through the series as preparation for reading Mr. Joshi's
The Assaults of Chaos: A Novel About H. P. Lovecraft. I figured that I should read his earlier works of fiction before I took up his new book.
The two latest Joe Scintilla mysteries are entitled Conspiracy of Silence and Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor. They were published in 2011 in a single volume, a so-called Wildside Mystery Double. That is, you read the first story, flip the book over, and then read the second story. It's a fun way to package the stories, in the spirit of the old Ace Double paperbacks.
Here's what the covers and title pages look like:
Conspiracy of Silence begins in November 1936. Joe Scintilla is an FDR man, so he's suitably happy about the great man's re-election. Business is slow, of course. It always is in detective land. But in walks Lizbeth Crawford with a sad story and an ample bosom. (Sadly, the latter doesn't play much of a role in the story, but nothing escapes the eagle eye of our brave detective.)
Miss Crawford is from a wealthy family, which is a good thing, since, as Scintilla observes, paupers don't have money to hire private detectives. Now that she has turned eighteen, she can spend some of her trust fund to hire Scintilla to prove that her father James Crawford did not murder her uncle Frank Crawford twelve years earlier. The problem is that her father confessed to killing her uncle as soon as the police arrived at the family mansion on that fateful night of March 19, 1924.
There doesn't seem to be a mystery here. There was a body on the floor and a doctor in the house. It seemed to be an open and shut case, but Miss Crawford is convinced that her father is innocent. Scintilla isn't immediately convinced, of course, but the country is still in the middle of the Great Depression, and he could use the fee. So he takes the case.
I won't reveal the details of the mystery, except to say that old family secrets are brought to light and the solution to the mystery turns out to be a genuine surprise, at least it was to me. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I'm not much of a mystery fan, but I genuinely enjoyed Conspiracy of Silence. Mr. Joshi constructs a good plot, and I had fun following it. He is still weak on atmosphere. I complained about how he handled the Italian sojourn in my discussion of The Removal Company. This time around Scintilla travels to Mexico in pursuit of a promising lead, and the atmospheric writing is still lacking. Apparently, Mexico is hot, dusty, and south of Texas. That's about the extent of Mr. Joshi's scene setting. He can do better, I think.
Here's another, smaller problem. Mr. Joshi doesn't seem to know much about guns. (This is true of a lot of writers, sad to say.) Shotguns don't fire bullets (see page 84). They fire shot or slugs. Most amateurs load them with shot. With shot all you have to do is point and shoot in the general direction of the target. So when Joseph the family butler takes a shot at Scintilla, I'm sure that he was using shot. Even worse, though, Mr. Joshi has Scintilla shoot the gun out of a villain's hand (see page 145). This is a terrible cliché. If you ask professionals who carry a firearm for a living, you'll learn that they aim for the chest or, if they're especially good shots, the head. No one tries to shoot a gun out of someone's hand. Why? It's a small target that moves around a lot, so it's hard to hit.
I'd like to see future books in the Scintilla series improve in the these two respects, i.e., the atmosphere and the gun play, especially the former. As I've mentioned before, atmosphere, mood, ambience that's what I like best about mysteries.
Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor is about half as long as Conspiracy of Silence. The mystery is not as well constructed. I didn't have any trouble spotting the murderer, but the manner in which the murder was committed struck me as rather improbable. Maybe you'll think otherwise. But the writing is generally good, and there's even an unexpected Gothic interlude.
The Scintilla stories are narrated in the first person. At the beginning of Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor we learn that Charles Jameson, one of Mr. Scintilla's college friends, is in jail under suspicion of murder. Scintilla comes to his aid, somewhat skeptically at first, of course. At this point in the story his friend takes over the narration for roughly thirty pages.
It's late 1937, and Charles Jameson is now a classics professor. He comes from a wealthy family, but it's clear that he doesn't normally have much to do with his relatives. The will of his recently deceased uncle John Kenneth Sarsfield sends the family to Sarsfield Manor to carry out a strange request. The estate will go to the one who solves an enigmatic riddle. It seems very silly to Charles, but there's no way around the will.
As Charles tells his story to Scintilla, we learn the history of the manor and four brothers who built it in 1765. The brothers Sarsfield were devoted to the occult, it seems, and for some unknown reason all four committed suicide on June 16, 1780. In short, we get a little Gothic tale, unfolded by Mr. Joshi under the obvious influence of his literary learning. This portion of the book is well done. In a bizarre turn of events Jameson is accused of killing his aunt Judith, one of the other potential heirs to the Sarsfield fortune. Unfortunately for him, everyone saw him hovering over her body with his hand on the knife sticking out of her back.
Scintilla springs into action, going to the manor to question everyone and investigate the mysterious murder. Along the way, the riddle in the will is solved, more family secrets are unearthed, and the mystery is solved. As I mentioned above, I wasn't too impressed with the solution of the mystery. So that was somewhat disappointing, but overall I enjoyed Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor, just not quite as much as Conspiracy of Silence.
Scintilla has an implausibly large working vocabulary. Here are some of the five dollar words that he employs: 'avuncular', 'stertorous', 'truculent', 'acclivity', 'penumbra', 'juxtaposition', 'anomalous', 'appurtenance', 'declivity', 'odiferous', 'plangent', 'phlegmatic', and 'orotund'. Yeah, yeah, I know that Scintilla studied at Johns Hopkins University back in the day, but his word power is a bit much at times. Philip Marlowe plays chess and reads T. S. Eliot, but he never sounds like a toff. So maybe Mr. Joshi could tone down the highfalutin language in the future installments of the series.
My most significant complaint about the Scintilla stories as a whole, and this goes back to my earlier posts, is that although Scintilla is said to have studied philosophy before he became a private detective, we don't get much of an idea as to how his education led to his choice of professions or how it influences his work as a detective. This is such an unusual backstory that it cries out for elaboration. So far in the series, though, it seems rather pretentious. More needs to be made out of it. Most private detectives are former police officers. So how did Scintilla get into the business? How did he survive? How did he become such a good detective? I'm hoping that we'll learn more about these aspects of his life and career as the series continues to develop.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the two most recent Scintilla stories, and I'm looking forward to more of them. But now that I've exhausted the series, at least until more titles appear, I can move on to Mr. Joshi's Lovecraft novel. So I'll soon be blogging my thoughts about The Assaults of Chaos.