Sunday, June 28, 2015

40, 41, maybe...

So,  in my pursuit of summer reading, I picked up And Another Thing, the post-mortem continuation of Douglas Adams's great Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by one Eoin Colfer. The book isn't going to get the 5x5 review treatment because I doubt that I will finish it. (I am off on a five-day work trip right now and I didn't even bother to bring it.)

I am a big fan of Adams's writing. It was not just in Hitchhiker's Guide and the Dirk Gently stories that his drollery and wit shone, but even in his more peripheral work, such as the video games he wrote way back when and his non-fiction book about endangered species, Last Chance to See. He had a voice as distinctive as that of P.G. Wodehouse; Colfer had quite a task before him, following Adams and using his same characters and milieu.

It turned out to be an impossible charge to fill. All the moves are there, but none of the magic shines through. I imagine it was like this when Bud Abbott teamed with Candy Candido late in his career: while they got some decent reviews, it's hard to imagine Who's On First? being done by anyone other than Abbott & Costello. Not to say that Colfer doesn't give it a good try; I am not familiar with his other work, but he clearly has made a yeoman's effort to recreate Adams's deft touch. His faux-Adams is not nearly as bad as David Soul playing Rick Blaine in the TV series based on Casablanca or Josh Mostel's valiant effort as Blotto Blutarsky in Delta House. It's more like you tuned in to see Larry, Moe, and Curly and got Larry, Moe and Joe DeRita: close, but no cigar.

It's not like this this sort of thing can't be done: Spider Robinson did a creditable job of channeling Robert Heinlein on Variable Star, for example. It's just that Colfer didn't do it here. No shame in the effort, but not enough results to get me to finish.

Friday, June 26, 2015

5x5 Graphic Novel(s): The Parker adaptations by Darwyn Cooke

1. A few years back (2009), Darwyn Cooke made a big splash with his graphic novel adaptation of famed crime writer Donald Westlake's The Hunter (written under the pen name Richard Stark), and I gobbled it up eagerly. When I was a young man, I read all the Stark books - the Parker series and the (much smaller) Grofield collection - and I had anticipated that Cooke's sensibility would be a perfect match for the series: that sort of Mad Men meets Goodfellas feeling. I was right.

2. The first book ended with a tease that there would be more Parker adaptations coming. Apparently I missed a memo or two - because there have been three more books already! I only tipped to the series after I ran across Books Two and Three at the library. The library copies still have the dust jackets (cellophaned, of course), but I removed the one on my copy of Book One because I like the retro flavor the binding so much.

3. Packaging aside, the quality of the books hold up across the series (or at least the 75% of it I have seen so far), and it's not just a matter of matching the art style to the subject matter. Cooke is not just a great cartoonist; he's also a good writer, who knows how to make an adaptation work. The pacing of the stories and the unfolding of the plots (including complex action) is flawless; Cooke knows when to use text and when to let the images alone carry the narrative.

4. A note from a formalist perspective, since this is me: Book Two diverges from its focus on Parker to show the activities of some of his criminal cronies as they rob syndicate operations. Each account is in a different style: an illustrated magazine article (with a lot of prose); fifties PSA cartooning; New Yorker-style cartoons; and what I can only call illustration sketchwork. The flavor these choices create move us out of the reality of the main story in the same way italics or margins or typeface might set off a secondary narrative within a prose book, but with many more layers of meaning added thanks to the art. Well-played, Mr. Cooke.

5. All that being said, after reading through a bunch of these in a row, I come up feeling a little bit empty. It isn't for want of content or execution, either in the original story or in the graphic adaptation. It's just that Parker is such a relentlessly amoral, brutal character that it is hard for me to sustain any sympathy for him, and without that identification, the books become nothing more than a series of beautifully rendered, grisly encounters. I read somewhere that Westlake wrote the anti-hero Parker stories on rainy days and the relatively light-hearted Grofield stories (and I'd guess the comic Dortmunder capers) on sunny days. I guess I would like to see a Darwyn Cooke take on a sunny day story.

Bonus: when I was describing Cooke's ability to visually capture early sixties motifs, a friend said "You mean like those big clocks with the spines and balls!" Precisely. And while there isn't actually one of those in any of the Parker books, we do get this

 and that's pretty close.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

That's a very low DC on a Craft: Felt skill check

So, whenever I have gone to the Value Village, I have kept my eye out for a wooden box that meets certain specifications. I needed it to be small, but not too small; to be hinged, with a lid that opened 180 degrees (or close to that); and not to look dorky, with puppies or rainbows or some other silly stuff on it. The other day, I finally found it:

It's about four inches across and an inch-and-a-half high. I'm not sure if that critter is a turtle looking up and to the left or a rabbit looking over its shoulder to the right, but it was good enough. 

To make this completely serviceable, I needed some felt, easily obtained from pal JK (who is a real Maker and has all sorts of crafty goods). She kindly left a nice chocolate brown swatch in my mailbox at work, and I got to crafting.

To wit: I cut out liners for the bottom of the box and top of the lid and glued them in. Woo-hoo!

Why this fussing? For this:

A nice dice-tossing box. Looks cool, holds the dice for transport, control the rolls, and keeps me from throwing the dice across the table. The addition of the felt lining tones down the clack-clack noises just enough.

Here's an action shot:

Well, it's not like I am ready for Urban Craft Uprising or anything, but it is a step in the lo-fi direction I seem to be taking these days.

And I have a cool box.