Monday, May 29, 2017

American Gods - Black Dog - Neil Gaiman

Conundrum: should I review Black Dog here or over on my biblioblog? It is a book, after all, albeit an ebook in my usage. On the other hand I reviewed the graphic novel here, as media and culture, and it was definitely that stunning cover image by Swedish artist Daniel Egneus that attracted me. Decision made: it has to be both.

So Black Dog isn't a graphic novel, it's a novella (short, even by novella standards) within the American Gods series. It features, front and centre, the flawed hero of the series Shadow Moon, who seems to have wandered into a mash-up of American Werewolf in London and Reservoir Dogs. My favourite kind of hangout. He duly admires the mummified cat they dug out of the pub foundations, he pals up with odd couple Moira and Ollie, who literally provide Shadow with shelter from the storm. Ollie is big on local folklore, primarily the black dog, barguest, boggart or padfoot, the demon dog who brings death to your house the way lesser dogs bring fleas. Moira used to be an item with Cassie, who now seems set on becoming an item with Shadow. This causes Shadow no misgivings whatsoever as Cassie reminds him of his old flame, the Egyptian cat goddess Bast.

Gaiman is truly on top of his game with this one. The ideas fizz. Take for example how he draws the parallel between the folkloric black dog and Churchill's anthropomorphised depression. I loved the cats and dogs material. I loved every minute of it. But I'm still not forking out to watch the TV series on Amazon Video. I will, however, fork out regularly for more of the source material, especially if it features artwork like the above.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Herman Wouk - 102 today!

Of course I'd heard of Herman Wouk. Who hasn't? He wrote The Caine Mutiny, for goodness sake. But did I know, 66 years on from the publication of Caine, he was still alive? No. I'm amazed, impressed, and glad. I've celebrated by ordering a copy of Caine, which like many others I expect, I have never read. I've also given the movie a wide berth and suspect I will continue to do so.

I did read his other biggie, though, back in the 'Eighties. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, both star-studded TV mini-series. Back then, of course, Wouk was only in his late sixties. Who would have imagined he would still be publishing books (Sailor and Fiddler) in his centenary year?

Herman Wouk is making a valiant attempt at living forever. Good luck to him. So far so good. This year I will be celebrating by reading the novel that made him. In their works, it goes without saying, all writers live forever.

Discover more by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New header

Decided to change the image that tops this blog. I read in The Times obituaries this morning that Martin Froy died back in January. Froy, who was ninety years old, had a long career in art and was always well known without hitting the heights. One work that received great attention at the time (1953) was his mural for the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. That is the new image:

The reason I chose it was that I used to work at the Belgrade back in the Eighties. I think it was the job I enjoyed most in my short but colourful theatrical career. I really liked the building, too.

If anyone is wondering why a theatre in Coventry is called the Belgrade, it is that the great Serbian city donated the timber for the building which was part of the massive postwar reconstruction of the city after the murderous German bombing in the war. Back in the Fifties and Sixties the Belgrade was at the forefront of the kitchen sink drama movement, premiering plays by the likes of Arnold Wesker. Nowadays, sadly, it sticks to musicals, touring shows and general dross.

Friday, May 12, 2017

American Gods - Black Horse graphic novel

As those who visit my book blog will know, I struggle with Neil Gaiman. I admire the man hugely. I loved Black Orchid (1988-9), adored Neverwhere (1996) - I even liked his episode of Doctor Who when the Tardis became Suranne Jones. But I struggled badly with Anansi Boys (2005). Meanwhile, ignoring my opinions rightly and completely, Gaiman has gone on to big and better things. Right now his 2001 novel American Gods is slaying them on Netflix. Not having Netflix, I opted for the graphic novel version, launched by Black Horse in March 2017. Even better, I downloaded it as an e-book to my Kindle Fire.

Turns out the e-reader is the perfect vehicle for graphic novels. I used to be a huge fan of American comics in my youth (actually until my mid-twenties) but only dipped my toe in the grown-up version with the aforementioned Black Orchid three or so years ago. I'm now going to focus on them digitally.

Gaiman didn't actually write the graphic novel - that is the work of P Craig Russell. He's done a good job. When you look at analytically there's a heck of a lot of story in the 20-odd pages of Issue #1. Moreover, he's not afraid to lose the words and let the pictures convey the mood.

The pictures are by Scott Hampton, who is very much in the forefront of contemporary comic art. He worked on Gaiman's Sandman and the revamped Batman. He has a detached, edgy style which suits the material here perfectly. I loved the layouts, like the above example, with its tightly cropped, almost columnar off-centre panels.

Good news. I'm intrigued to view more (but not intrigued enough, yet, to splash out on Netflix).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Visit the Rijksmuseum - online!

I've recently discovered the Rijksmuseum's fabulous site, via Open Culture. Very quickly I found this typical double portrait by Piero di Cosimo. Painted around 1485, it's an oil on board, and features Giuliano da Sangallo, a Florentine architect, and his father Francesco.

Piero shows us that Giuliano was in the design business by the drawing tools resting on the table or sill below him. Francesco was also an architect, apparently, but he also liked a tune according to Piero. Francesco had recently shuffled off his mortal coil - no real surprise, by the look of him. Did Piero know him in life? Did he work from a separate portrait, either by him or someone else? Or did he rely on the son's description? I doubt the latter: if Giuliano disliked his father so much that he described him as a human gargoyle, why would he want him included in the painting he was paying for? Actually, I rather suspect it was Francesco's legacy that paid the fee. Piero (1462-1522) was a well-regarded artist in Medici Florence, on terms with Leonardo and Michaelangelo. Typically, his work on the Sistine Chapel was painted over by the latter. Piero was also solitary, unsociable, a bit odd.  That's why I love him so much. He reminds me of me.