Friday, 30 April 2010

Pithy Reviews of the Comics I Read Last Night

I just emailed these to Mart, but I thought I'd post them here as well, slightly embellished:

Brightest Day #0. This performed the miraculous feat of setting up storylines for lots and lots of characters but leaving me with absolutely no interest whatsoever in following any of those storylines, despite previously having had some interest in Aquaman and the Flash and one or two of the other characters featured herein. Well done Geoff Johns. I was mildly intrigued by the new Green Arrow series advertised at the back though. Don't ask me why.













Rasl
#7. This was a bit 'talky', but once the explanations were out of the way, it ended quite well. I shall persist with this series, although I had to get this latest issue in St. Albans (on a day trip prior to being on a panel about Dan Dare at the University of Hertfordshire) as my local comic shop didn't have it. So maybe I shan't persist. Love that cover though. Well done Jeff Smith.













Unwritten #12. This was quite amusing, a twisted take on Winnie the Pooh. Bit of a bobbins ending though. Must try harder Mike Carey. See me after.

Bollocks.

I've just found out there's no new episode of Lost tonight. I was looking forward to that too.

Shit.

Typical.

You wait ages for a copy of Plunder Squad, and then two turn up almost at once:













That's a 1974 UK Coronet edition of the book – the first and only British printing – which I nabbed on eBay last week. I got it just in case the US hardback I bought didn't make it past the Icelandic volcano, but it did, so now I have two editions. Whoops. The paperback's in good shape, although the spine's very creased, so the pages aren't quite as firm as they could be. It'll have to be read carefully. I'll probably stick it back on eBay when I'm done with it, so anyone who's interested in taking it off my hands down the line, let me know...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Comic Questionnaire!

Stolen from Mart!

1. Did you read comics as a kid?

I did. I can remember having The Beano bought for me from an early age, as well as reading the likes of Whizzer & Chips, The Dandy, and even the girls' comics my sister used to get, like Bunty. There were some great stories in those – I remember one about this weird mirror that turned everyone who looked into it into an evil(ish) reverse person. I've been trying to work out what that story was for years... I also used to get the weekly black and white Spider-Man comic Marvel UK published. I think I used to buy that myself from the local newsagent.

2. Who bought you your first comic?
I think my dad used to buy Beano for me. It would be delivered every Saturday along with the paper. Same with 2000 AD when I switched to that slightly later.

3. Did you take any time away from comics? Why?
There was a period from about 1989 to 1998 when I fell out of comics completely, chiefly because I was also into music and became much more interested in going to gigs and then, through the '90s when I was a music journalist, to clubs. Sex (well, some) and drugs and rock 'n' roll (well, dance music) distracted me from comics.

4. What brought you back into comics?
I happened to wander into a comic shop in Camden one day and bought the first issues of Marvel's Heroes Return comics, when their characters came back from the Heroes Reborn universe. Avengers, Iron Man and Thor I think it was. Pretty soon after that I was hooked again.

5. Do you prefer getting comics monthly or in trades?
Monthly. A big part of the attraction for me with comics is their serialized nature. I like that weekly-trip-to-the-comic-shop fix. Although I buy fewer comics these days, so it's not always weekly. But I'll pick up collections and graphic novels too.

6. Do you know the name of your Local Comic Shop (LCS)?
Dave's in Brighton.

7. Does your LCS know your name?
Nope, although a couple of them recognise me when I go in.

8. Do you own any old number 1 comics (must date before 1980)?
Hmm... a few, yeah. At one point I did have some great old Neal Adams X-Mens and Steranko X-Mens and Captain Americas (not number 1s, I know, but still...), but I flogged them a while ago. Now I think I only have a few things from the '70s I picked up more recently, like Steve Gerber's Guardians of the Galaxy and Omega the Unknown, like that.

9. Do you own any original comic art?
No, just a few signed graphic novels.

10. Do you bag and board your comics?
Not really these days. But the comics I have in my mum and dad's loft – thousands of the buggers – are mostly bagged and in some cases boarded.

11. Where do you store your comics?
See above, and also in the top of the wardrobe in my flat. There's a huge amount of space up there, so that's more than you'd think...

12. How many comics do you read right now, in either floppy or trade format?
Something like ten or so comics per month, including Captain America, New Avengers, Batman and Robin, Stumptown, Rasl, Walking Dead, Unwritten, Invincible Iron Man and Ex Machina. And I'll get a new graphic novel every few months; I just picked up Dan Clowes' Wilson, for instance.

13. What would be your number one, all-time desert island, favourite comic series?
Lucifer.

14. Do you follow comic creators on Twitter?
I follow Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis, but I rarely remember to log on.

15. Do you have a favourite comic creator?
Ed Brubaker.

16. Do you harbour any aspirations to create your own comics?
Not really. I wrote a script for a friend once, and I used to write and draw my own comics when I was younger, but not anymore.

17. Do you access comic news online, if so where?
Comics Reporter, Journalista, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Every Day is Like Wednesday, and Bleeding Cool, although the guy behind that one is a div.

Time to pick sides:

Marvel or DC?
Marvel at first when I was a kid getting into Spider-Man and Captain America. Then DC. Then Marvel when I got back into comics, then DC for a while, and now mostly Marvel again.

Superman or Batman?
Probably Batman, but I've followed both at various times.

Spider-Man or Wolverine?
Spidey I guess, although I don't read any of those godawful current retro Amazing Spider-Mans. It's just dated.

Iron Fist or Luke Cage?
I used to like Iron Fist years ago, but now Luke Cage is in New Avengers I follow him more. But I'm not that arsed about either of 'em really.

Nick Fury normal or Nick Fury Sam Jackson?
Nick Fury normal.

Spandex or real life stories?
Bit of both. Spandex for that weekly serialized fix, real life other times.

Golden Age or Silver Age or Modern Age?
Modern Age. Golden and Silver Age comics are fun, but I prefer the more sophisticated approach of today's comics. Well, the good ones anyway (see question 12). The large majority of today's comics are pretty workmanlike.

Digital or paper?
Paper.

Gotham or New York?
New York, 'cos it's real and full of comics shops (and book shops – that's where I'll be going next time I'm over there).

Hero or villain?
Kang the Conqueror.

Cape or no cape?
No cape.

Cowl or domino mask?
Domino mask.

I splurged.

Not only did I get most of the comics I wanted this week (predictably, they didn't have Stumptown #3; I guess it'll be Ebay for that), but I also got the issue of Unwritten I missed from two weeks ago 'cos I didn't go to the comic shop that week 'cos there that was the only comic I wanted (there was one copy sitting there, which, considering I buy Unwritten from my local comic shop every month, means it was simply waiting for me; thanks for waiting, Unwritten). And not only that, this came in too:













The first new Dan Clowes book in an age. And it's all original material too – previous Clowes books have consisted of comics already published in his Eightball comic series (Ghost World, Ice Haven). His David Boring is one of my favourite comics ever, right up there alongside Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde, Miller and Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, Eddie Campbell's How to Be an Artist and Mike Carey and Peter Gross' Lucifer. So I'm really looking forward to reading Wilson. It's a lovely book too – the size of an old British annual (as Paul Gravett has pointed out) and beautifully printed, Clowes' linework and colours looking gorgeous.













Huzzah.

Plunder Squad by Richard Stark

The vagaries of international mail couldn't stop it. Icelandic volcanoes couldn't stop it. I've been hinting about it for weeks and now it's finally here:













A first US edition of Richard Stark's Plunder Squad, the fifteenth Parker novel, published in hardback by Random House in 1972. Took a while to track down a copy I could afford – the cheapest copy on AbeBooks, ignoring the non-existent listing for one at £50 (believe me, I checked), is over £120 for an ex-library copy – but eventually I did, and it's now in my sweaty paws. It's a nice copy: not ex-library, the only defect is a water stain to the lower part of the back of the jacket. For what I paid, I can live with that.













And it means I now have a copy of every one of the first sixteen Parker novels. There's still a few particular editions of those novels I'd like to get hold of – an Allison & Busby hardback of The Rare Coin Score, for example – but I can take my time over those. And there's a few Parkers from the second run of books I'll have to pick up at some point, but I'm reading Parker #7, The Split, at the moment, so plenty of time to secure those.

Mind you, I still need to track down the three Grofield novels following The Damsel... A collector's work is never done...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Coronet Parkers

Here's another exceedingly dull discovery for you. For some reason I'd got it into my head that when UK publisher Hodder Fawcett/Coronet published Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's Parker novels in paperback in the late sixties/early seventies – the first time they'd been published in the UK – they were issued in the correct order, i.e. the order they were originally written and published in the US. But a recent win on eBay of two Coronet paperbacks – The Rare Coin Score and The Green Eagle Score – has proved otherwise.

Coronet did start off with the first book in the series, The Hunter (originally published in the US in 1962), except they went with the book's more famous title, Point Blank, to tie in with the 1967 John Boorman/Lee Marvin movie. As the Coronet edition of Point Blank was published in the same year as the film, the publisher opted for a movie tie-in cover:













Thereafter, I'd always figured the publisher had carried on with the series in its original order, with The Man with the Getaway Face – retitled The Steel Hit – coming next. I also thought that after the movie cover of Point Blank, Coronet has settled on a snazzy but simple double-cover design for the rest of the series, where the titles of the novels could be glimpsed through a bullet hole:













And indeed Coronet did publish all of the rest of the Parker books in that format – eventually. But before that, immediately following Point Blank, Coronet actually opted for the ninth Parker novel, The Rare Coin Score, for their second release in 1968, with a completely different cover design:













Why did they do this? Well I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing The Rare Coin Score was the most recent Parker novel at the time (it was published in the US in 1967), so perhaps Coronet wanted to stay in touch with the US schedule and stop any American copies of the book coming into the UK and eating into their sales. That's a common publishing strategy. As for why they chose that design, well, it's just really, really lovely. I have no idea who the illustrator is there – it doesn't say in the book – so if anyone knows, feel free to comment.

After The Rare Coin Score, Coronet next published the tenth Parker novel, The Green Eagle Score, in the same cover style, also in 1968 (originally published in the US in 1967):













Another classy cover there. So those are the two paperbacks I won on eBay. After The Green Eagle Score, I'm not sure how many other of the Parker books Coronet published in that manner. They may have issued the next Parker, The Black Ice Score, in that style, and thanks to The Violent World of Parker I know for sure they published The Sour Lemon Score that way:













They also released a movie version of the seventh Parker novel, The Seventh, as The Split in 1969, to tie in with that year's Gordon Flemyng film:













After that, I guess they switched to the double-cover design for the Parkers they'd yet to publish, and reprinted the novels they'd already published in those double-covers:













So there you go. Anyway, it's nice to have those first UK printings of The Rare Coin Score and The Green Eagle Score. I think they're pretty rare; I've certainly never seen those first printings online anywhere else. Of course, now I'll have to keep an eye out for the other Parker novel(s?) in that style...

Volvanos permitting, it's The List!

I think there'll be a new comics delivery on Thursday. Apparently last week's comics, which were delayed by the Icelandic volcano, came in to UK comic shops yesterday. But as non-existent regular readers already know, there was nothing in last week's delivery I wanted. However, I did get terribly excited prior to establishing there was nothing I wanted because I mistakenly read this week's list of new comics instead and thought there were five comics I wanted to get, a figure that's practically unheard of these days (for me).

Well now it's this week, and assuming the delivery gets through, those five comics are still on the list. Sing Hosanna! And here they are:

Captain America #605
Invincible Iron Man #25
New Avengers #64
Stumptown #3
Walking Dead #71

So there you go. I also missed The Unwritten #12 from a couple of weeks ago, so if that's still around I'll pick it up. Of the new comics, I missed #2 of Stumptown, which is the Greg Rucka-written mystery/detective comic, but I just ordered a copy on eBay (oddly enough from a comic shop near where I used to live in north London, which is interweb-only these days I think), so if my comic shop has #3, I'll pick it up.

The end.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Parker Repeat / The Jugger

Now that's interesting. I started reading the seventh Parker novel yesterday, The Split. I'm up to chapter two, and Westlake has just used the exact same sentence to describe an aspect of Parker's physical appearance as he used in Point Blank/The Hunter: "His hands looked like they'd been molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins."

So what does that signify? Was that laziness on Westlake's part? Maybe the grind of pumping out six Parker novels in three years – not to mention the three or four (at least) other novels he wrote during that period – was getting to him. Or did he forget he used the same phrase before? Answers on a postcard, please.

As for The Split's predecessor, The Jugger, I really liked it, particularly the way Parker's too-neat resolution completely unravelled in the final few pages, leaving him as high and dry as he was at the start of Point Blank. Still, as Parker himself notes philosophically, and to quote Vonnegut Jr.: so it goes.

In response

to Book Glutton's comment on the post below this one, and the almost literally thousands of readers who are doubtless waiting nervously, feverishly even, for an answer, I kinda knew Grand Rapids was in Michigan. I was just using it as the basis for a facetious quip. No change there...

As to whether I read the rarer/more valuable Parker books I pick up, well, I read whichever copy I have to hand. So for example with Point Blank I was reading a 1967 Coronet paperback out and about and a 1984 Allison & Busby edition at home; for The Outfit I was reading a '70s Berkley paperback on the move and an '80s A&B hardback at home; The Split I've just started reading in an A&B hardback edition... and so on.

I'm careful with my books – I treat them nice, like – but far as I'm concerned books are meant to be read. I might acquire additional editions of books if I like the look of 'em or see 'em about, but I don't buy them as reading copies per se. As far as the Parker books go, I'm reading them in original publication order so I've yet to get to the really scarce ones. But when I do get to, say, Plunder Squad (not that I have a copy of that one... yet...) or Butcher's Moon, I'll read them in the rare and eye-wateringly expensive editions I have, whilst feeling exceedingly smug about it.

Feel free to slap me if you see me around.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

New Arrivals

Couple of new acquisitions turned up today. One of them I've already mentioned: a 1991 Allison & Busby paperback edition of the twelfth Richard Stark/Parker novel, The Sour Lemon Score. But here it is again for good measure:













The other new arrival was this:













A US first edition of Backflash, the eighteenth Parker novel (and second in the second run of books, following Comeback), published in hardback by Mysterious Press in 1998. I mentioned before I wasn't terribly keen on the jacket design that Mysterious Press introduced for the US Parker novels with this book, and that I intended to collect the UK Robert Hale editions instead. But I saw this for sale on eBay from the UK, for cheaper than the Robert Hale edition, and thought, sod it.

And actually, now I have the book, that jacket is more interesting than I first reckoned. Designers Jackie Merri Meyer and Rachel McClain have taken Daniel Pelavin's hand-lettering and illustration and slapped them onto what looks like a file or envelope, complete with staple at the bottom. The whole file has then been shifted so it looks skewiff, and the edges blurred as if it's a microfilm, I guess to emphasize the 'mystery' nature of the book, in line with Time Warner imprint it's published by. Of course, Parker novels aren't really mysteries, although they do often have mystery elements in them, or rather aspects of the plots that Parker himself is unaware of but that get revealed to us during the Stark Cutaways.

So, not quite sure if that is the effect the designers were going for, but I don't mind the end result. I think I will pick up the rest of the later Parkers in Robert Hale editions, though, particularly seeing as I already have Firebreak in that edition.

Oh, and this copy of Backflash is ex-library (in excellent nick, mind), this time from the East Grand Rapids branch of Kent District Library, wherever the hell that is. I actually grew up in Kent. But not that Kent. Certainly don't remember there being any grand rapids in the part of Kent – Beckenham – I'm from. Although there's one bit of the river that runs through Kelsey Park, where I used to fish for sticklebacks as a kid, that can be a bit pacey when it's been raining...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I'm often asked,

by no one other than myself, in my head, why I don't review more of the comics I buy – when I actually get to buy said comics, that is, when volcanos and the ongoing shitness of DC and Marvel's publishing strategies permit, that is; why I merely waffle on about which comics I'll be buying on a particular week (or not, as is increasingly the case) and rarely follow up with reviews of the comics I buy (or rather don't buy, many weeks). And the answer to that question that nobody other than me asked, is that in a world where Tucker Stone is reviewing comics, there really isn't anything for anyone else to say.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Parker Allison & Busby Editions: Part 2 Delayed

I still intend to get to Part 2 of my guide to the Allison & Busby editions of the Parker novels – part the one here – but it's taking a little time to get it straight in my head, chronologically speaking. See, after the initial eight hardbacks Allison & Busby published in the mid-eighties, with their bold typographical Mick Keates jackets, along these lines:













the publisher changed tack and introduced a new design from the mid- to late-eighties, still by Mick Keates, but accompanied by almost film still/photocopy-like illustrations (some, like on The Outfit, possibly even lifted from the Point Blank movie). Such as this:













Hardbacks and paperbacks of this second wave of A&B editions were seemingly published either in quick succession or possibly even simultaneously, and both hardbacks and paperbacks had the same covers (although adapted slightly for the paperback). I'm unsure about the order they were published and when the paperbacks were published, which is one of the things that's holding me back from doing Part 2. (And by the way, that 1988 hardback edition of The Outfit – and is that Lee Marvin there on the cover? – was the same size as the earlier A&B hardbacks, but the other A&B hardbacks in this second wave seem to have been published at the same smaller size as the paperbacks in this wave. Go figure.)

But there are other issues that are keeping me from doing Part 2. To add a further wrinkle, also at this time A&B started publishing some of their earlier hardbacks in paperback, except in this new style of cover. For example:













That's the 1985 hardback edition of The Man with the Getaway Face on the left, and the 1986 paperback edition on the right. So another thing I don't know is how many of those first eight A&B hardbacks were subsequently published as paperbacks in this new style.

But we're not done yet. Because there's one further iteration of A&B editions, which I think came in in the late eighties/early nineties. These kept the same style as the second wave of A&B editions, but introduced illustrations by Stephen Hall. They looked like this:













I don't think there were many of these, and I believe they were all paperbacks. But to add to the confusion, not only were there completely new editions (for A&B that is) like Deadly Edge, but also paperbacks of earlier hardback editions, like The Sour Lemon Score, which I banged on about in an earlier post today.

These are knotty problems. And that's why I ain't done me Part 2 yet. Even though I know the world is waiting for it, breath bated. Isn't it?

Really?

I just noticed that the rather ace website The Violent World of Parker has linked to Existential Ennui in their weekly news round-up on their blog. Which is nice. If a little bizarre. But it might explain the random visitors I've been getting recently. To whom I can only apologise for the meandering, essentially pointless nature of many of the posts here. Such as this one.

Parker Progress Report: The Score and more

So where are we up to on the Parker novels? Well, reading-wise, I finished Parker #5, The Score – 1984 Allison & Busby hardback, the edition I read, seen here – and I'm two thirds of the way through the next one, The Jugger, which I gots in a 1986 A&B paperback – see below. The Score was bloody great, possibly the best one so far, with a brilliant heist involving the take-down of a whole town, Parker working alongside a host of fellow criminals, including a debut appearance for Alan Grofield, who also pops up in a number of later Parker books and four novels of his own. I liked Grofield in this one: he's young, smart, and unusually upbeat for a Stark/Westlake character. But he also has his faults; at one point in the book he's criticized by Parker and another character for not paying his taxes. Which sounds a bit of an odd thing to have to do for a career criminal, but as Parker notes, non payment of taxes is a surefire way to bring the Federal government down on you.

The Jugger is a different beast altogether from previous novels. There's no score to speak of; instead Parker is looking into the death of Joe Sheer, the safecracker who acts as Parker's mail drop. Not for altruistic reasons, mind; simply because Sheer knew Parker's main alias, Charles Willis, as well as many of the scores Parker has taken. So when Sheer writes to Parker (prior to dying, obv) asking for help with a problem – something that men in this line of work just don't do, unless it's help with a robbery – Parker goes to see him with the intention of possibly killing him. It's always self-interest with Parker. I've just reached the Stark Cutaway on this one, where we find out what happened to Sheer. It's a different kind of novel, f'sure, but still terrific.

In collecting news, the Icelandic volcano has almost certainly delayed a Parker first edition I've got on order from the US, but in the meantime, I just nabbed this on eBay for a song:













The 1991 Allison & Busby UK paperback of The Sour Lemon Score (Parker #12). It may not look like much to you, chief, being somewhat scruffy, but the cheapest copies of this edition on AbeBooks at the moment are thirty or forty quid from the States, and on Amazon it's more like sixty quid. I got it for much less than a tenner. And yes, I know I already have this:













the 1986 A&B hardback, but I like the cover of the paperback, which sports an illustration by Stephen Hall, whose work graced a few of the later A&B paperbacks, as I've mentioned before. I haven't seen a picture of this particular cover online before. Looking forward to receiving it.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I made a cryptic comment about symmetry when I was blathering on about Comeback in this post, and I just realised I never followed up on that. The symmetry thing was I knew I had a 1974 US first edition of Butcher's Moon – the final Parker in the original run of novels – on the way to me, which is why it was nice to have a 1997 US first edition of Comeback – the first Parker in the second run – too. See? Symmetry. Proper US first editions either side of the twenty-three-year break.

Yeah, OK, bit of a weird one. I'm a funny old stick.

The (Absence) List

Ooh, I got all excited there for a moment. I was looking at the list of comics that are coming out this week, and managed to find five I wanted. So I was gonna post something about the irony of there finally being a week where there are five comics coming out that I want (as opposed to the usual one or two) but I wouldn't be able to get them anyway because the blinkin' Icelandic volcano has cut the UK off from the rest of the world and there are no new comics coming in from the States this week.

And then I realised I was looking at next week's list.

Sigh.

In fact, it wouldn't matter to me if the new comics arrived this week anyway, because, looking at this week's list, there are no new comics I want. None. Nuffink. Zilch.

It's almost as if the volcano knew...

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic Activity

There may be hundreds of thousands of people stuck all over the world as a result of the Icelandic volcano, but it's only now that the real effects of the no-fly zone are being felt. To whit: there'll be no new comics in the UK this week! Diamond, the comics distributor, can't send over the latest shipment from the States. So this'll be two weeks in a row I won't have been to the comic shop. Good lord.

I've also got a book on order from the US, so that'll be going nowhere too.

Oh well.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Strike One

As a little aside to the previous post, despite my fretting over its whereabouts, I think I might have been a bit disappointed if my copy of Butcher's Moon had turned up any earlier. See, the strike-off line on the imprint page doesn't have a '1' on it. It runs "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2".

For anyone who doesn't know, strike-off lines are what publishers use to keep track of which printing of a book is in circulation. If a book's strike-off line runs "10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1" (or "2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1" if the text is centred rather than ranged left), it usually (but not always) means it's a first printing. If the "1" is missing – or the "1" and the "2", or the "1", "2", "3", etc. – it means it's a second printing, or third printing, and so on. For book nerds like me, first printings are what it's all about. (Used to be the printer would manually scratch off a number on the plate for each printing, but in the days of in-house repro etc., that happens less often.)

So my copy of Butcher's Moon is a second printing, right? Well, no. After I ordered the book (and was assured by the seller it was a first printing as well as a first edition), I did some research on another Random House book from the same period. (Astute followers of this blog – if there are any; followers I mean, not astute people – might be able to work out which book, but we'll come back to that another time.) And it turns out that during the 1970s, when Random House used a strike-off line (they didn't always), they generally ended at "2". So the only way to be sure an RH book from that period is a first edition is if it says "First Edition" (or "First Printing") under the strike-off line. Which my copy does.

Bloody confusing, but at least I worked that out before the book arrived. So now I know. And, probably to your eternal regret if you've read this far, so do you.

Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark

Here's what I was waiting for:













A first edition of Richard Stark's Butcher's Moon, published in the US by Random House in 1974. It's the sixteenth Parker novel, coming at the end of the original run of Parker novels from 1962–1974. It's also, I believe, either the longest or one of the longest of the Parker books, clocking in at over 300 pages. Most of the novels before this one are about half the length.

Took a wee while to track this one down, at least at a price I could afford. It's one of the rarest Parker novels; there have only been three editions of it up to now: this one from Random House, a UK Coronet paperback in 1977, and an Avon paperback in 1985. The Random House edition is the only hardback edition. There'll be a new paperback edition from University of Chicago Press (who've been reprinting the Parker books) either later this year or start of next.

This is a nice copy; it's not ex-library, the jacket (which I love; it was designed by one Ira Teichberg) is clean and bright with a few small marks on the spine, and the pages are cream. The only defect inside is on the listed previous Parker novels at the front, where the book's last owner has, rather sweetly, put a small, neat tick next to the titles he or she owned at that point.













You can just about see they're missing The Mourner, The Green Eagle Score and Plunder Squad. I hope she or he tracked them down eventually.

And for good measure, here's the board cover too, with its black spine and cute mirrored buildings deboss on the front:

The wait is over.

The book has arrived. So what was it I was so worried about? Why I reckon that deserves a post all of its own.

Still no sign

of the book I'm waiting for. And now the seller's clammed up. Plus, we have the extra wrinkle of UK airspace being closed because of the ash from the Icelandic volcano. Did the book make it into the country from the States before that happened? Is it in the UK but dawdling towards me? Is it stuck in the US? Does it even exist? I have no way of knowing. And there's not an awful lot I can do about it anyway. Apart from wait. And, of course, fret.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Wrong Book

Further to the previous post, typically, the other book turned up instead. Tits.

Still, shouldn't complain. It's still a New Addition. That's New Addition as in a new arrival, not New Edition as in the popular R&B combo best known for 'Candy Girl'. And it is this:













The 2002 Robert Hale UK hardback edition of Firebreak, the 20th Parker novel. Or, if you prefer, Parker vol. 2 #4, as it's the fourth Parker in the second run of books, which started with Comeback in 1997. I mentioned the Robert Hale editions a little while back – they're interesting in that they boast painted illustrations on the jacket, something that fell out of favour in publishing some years previously, and in particular the kinds of portraits seen here. (The US editions of these later novels have largely typographical covers, for example.)

I'm guessing that's Parker himself there on the cover, as painted by artist Derek Colligan. It's not really how I picture Parker – Darwyn Cooke's version's nearer the mark I reckon – but I like the painting. Colligan's obviously an experienced cover artist; note the way he's playing with the need for a cover to have space for the title and author name by having Parker in front of a literal space on a wall where there was once a painting (you can see the lighter area where the picture was). That's actually pretty clever.

It'll be a while before I get to read this one – I'm only up to The Jugger (Parker #6) at the moment – but that's good 'cos I'm missing the couple of novels in between Comeback and this, as well as a couple of the books from the first run of Parkers.

For the moment, anyway...

The Waiting

I'm waiting for a book to turn up. Actually I'm waiting for two books to turn up, but I almost don't care if one of them doesn't turn up. It's the other one I'm really waiting for.

It's coming from America. The seller has assured me it's shipped. So all I can do is wait. And fret. I can fret too. I'm good at fretting. In fact I'm much better at fretting than I am at waiting, as readers of these three posts might have gathered. So that's what I'm doing. Waiting. And fretting.

What am I waiting (and fretting) for? Well you'll just have to wait (but not fret – please, don't fret) and see.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Call that a List?

Another pathetic showing for new comics this week, at least for me anyway. Either I'm being incredibly picky these days about which comics I buy, or there are a disproportionate number of shitty comics being published.

Actually it could be both those things.

I mean, last week I managed to find three comics I sort of wanted to buy. I say "sort of", 'cos the only one I had any great enthusiasm for was Batman and Robin #11. I picked up S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 as it looked reasonably interesting (weaving the likes of Leoonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton into Marvel continuity) and Turf #1 because it's Jonathan Ross' first comics effort. But tellingly, I haven't read any of those yet.

This week, we have one comic I would kind of like to read – Mike Carey and Peter Gross' The Unwritten #11, which I sort of enjoy when I do read it, although it's nowhere near as brilliant as their much-missed (by me) Lucifer – and one comic I'm half interested in having a look at: Brightest Day #0. This is DC's new fortnightly series spinning out of Blackest Night. Except I didn't read Blackest Night, having got bored an issue or two in. So that doesn't bode well for Brightest Day, does it?

So, once again, is it even worth going to the comic shop?

Probably not.

Ho hum.

Monday, 12 April 2010

I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me...

I'm not a terribly competitive person. Generally speaking, 'winning' doesn't interest me. I don't mind if I win something, but equally I don't mind if I lose either.

Unless it's eBay. For some reason, eBay brings out the worst in me, in a couple of ways. Firstly: if I want to bid on a book – and it is usually a book, unsurprisingly – I'll almost always stay my hand until the last thirty seconds of an auction (unless I know I'm going to be away from a computer). This tactic has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, if there are already bids on a book, it means I won't tip my hand to other bidders and thus drive up the price of the book. On the minus side, if my bid's too low, I won't have time to increase it. But all that aside, it has to be said that it's a fairly sneaky, even underhand way to go about things. And I'm not terribly proud of that behaviour. So there's that.

Anyway, most times it works out for me. If I'm interested in a book on eBay, I'll have already done my research online to see if there are any other copies out there on Amazon or AbeBooks. Those other books may not actually exist – they might have already been sold and the listing might not have been updated – but if there's enough copies around a certain price, it's a safe bet a few of them will be 'real' listings. So I'll know how high I want to go on eBay, and that's what I'll bid. And usually win.

Except when I don't. For example, I bid on a book at the weekend, employing my usual last-thirty-seconds tactic, and lost. Which leads me to the second thing about eBay that brings out the worst in me. On one level, not winning that book is fine. I know there are other copies on Amazon, for less than the book went for, and I'm actually happy for my rival bidder to have that book. But on another level, I lost an auction. So now in my summary of recent actions, under "Buy", I've got a glaring "Didn't win". (And thanks for that, eBay: I know I didn't win. I was watching the bloody auction. No need to taunt me.)

So why, when I don't ordinarily have a competitive bone in my body, does that bother me? Why do I care?

Why? Why?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Book Blog Plug

I've been getting a few random comments of late, and one of those, on this post, led me to this blog. It's basically a book review blog, but a good one, with a particular leaning towards pulpy genre stuff (and some comics). Some of the other blogs the author links to look interesting too. I'll be having a read at my leisure.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Apologies

for the petulant rant below. I should probably just delete it. But I'm going to leave it there as a reminder for future generations and visiting alien species that one should always try to keep a sense of perspective.

What a div.

We Fear Change

My local comic shop is in Brighton, a ten to fifteen minute train ride from where I live. It doesn't open late of an evening, so if I want to grab whatever comics I'm interested in buying that week, I have to pop over during my lunch break. (I could set up a pull list and not worry about missing out on particular comics – some do sell out quite quickly – but often these days I never quite know what I'll be getting until I actually look at the comic itself. Also, I can't be arsed.) So that's nearly half an hour on trains, plus about twenty-five minutes' walk either side, which leaves me about five minutes in the actual shop.

So you can see I don't have an awful lot of time for actual shopping. Which is why the comic shop's latest overhaul has slightly pissed me off. See, they've added a first floor, and that's where they've moved the new comics to, leaving the ground floor free for graphic novels and the kinds of things that entice in passing trade. I've seen this happen before in a few comic shops: the regular weekly comic shoppers get treated almost like second class citizens, shunted off to an upper floor or basement as if they're an embarrassment.

Fair enough, you might say. If the shop thinks they can do better offering more space for the casual buyer, that's their prerogative. And I don't necessarily disagree with that, although it's worth bearing in mind that the regular weekly comics nutters (like me) are still the lifeblood of any comic shop, offering guaranteed sales on a reasonably predictable basis. Take us out of the equation and it's debatable how long a comic shop could survive.

Now, having to climb a set of stairs probably doesn't sound like the greatest obstacle ever encountered by man. And really, it's not. But it does ever so slightly eat into the amount of time I have available for comic shopping. I need to be straight in and out pretty much. And I'm not alone there. But fine, it's OK, I can work with it. However, the comic shop has also decided to arrange the new comics, not along the walls where they'd be easiest to browse, but on low shelves in the middle of the room – and on the ends of those shelves, making it really awkward to see the comics, especially if someone's loitering in front of them. There's not a lot of space in the room, so all it takes is one person to be standing there and you can't actually get to the comics without pushing past.

It's bloody annoying. I hope they change the layout soon. The way things are, I really don't need much of an excuse to stop going to the comic shop altogether. This could turn out to be that excuse.

Eisner Award Nomination

Generally speaking I don't really blog about my 'real' life, i.e. what I do on a day-to-day basis. Y'know, work and stuff. But I thought I'd make an exception today, because a book wot I edited has been nominated for an Eisner Award. If that means nothing to you, then to explain, the Eisners are the leading awards in the comics field – kind of like the Oscars of comics. If the Oscars were won exclusively by bearded blokes in T-shirts. There are lots of categories in the awards, but one is for Best Comics-Related Book, and on the shortlist of five is this:













The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga
. I slaved over this bugger for months, working closely with the author, Helen McCarthy, from initial contracts through to scheduling, copyediting, picture research, subbing, proofing, approvals – you name it. So it's nice to see all our hard work get some kind of recognition. And it is a fab book, one of the best I've worked on. You can see the whole list of Eisner nominations here. The winners will be announced at Comic-Con in San Diego over the summer (I think).

Thursday, 8 April 2010

More Darwyn Cooke/Parker News...

Well now. Some more info about Darwyn Cooke's plans for adapting the Parker books into graphic novels has hit the interweb, following the release of his oversized comic book The Man with the Getaway Face at Wondercon in the US. You can reeeeaaad all abahdit here (along with some news about Cooke's version of The Hunter going onto the iPhone, if that sort of thing floats your boat), but essentially, Cooke had originally intended to adapt the first four Parker novels – The Hunter/Point Blank, The Man with the Getaway Face, The Outfit and The Mourner – in order. However he realised he really wanted to get to two of the later books: The Score and Slayground. So, as mentioned before, The Man with the Getaway Face has been folded into The Outfit, his next graphic novel, and he's skipping The Mourner altogether in favour of making The Score his third adaptation. And then he'll skip the eight books following The Score and adapt Slayground after that.

I've not finished The Score yet, but it is shaping up to be a killer read – the build-up to the heist is as fascinating as it was in The Man with the Getaway Face – and the heist itself, where Parker and co. take down an entire town, should be a blast. So I can see why he'd want to adapt that rather than the more low key The Man with the Getaway Face and The Mourner. And by all accounts Slayground, where Parker has to fight for his life in a fairground, is one of the best of the series. Cooke's a terrific cartoonist: whatever he wants to do next is fine by me. More power to his elbow.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Parker Progress Report: The Allison & Busby Editions, Part 1

So, I now have almost all of the Allison & Busby UK editions of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker novels, mostly in hardback but with a few paperbacks here and there. To recap: Allison & Busby began re-publishing the Parker novels – first published in the US in the sixties – in the 1980s in hardback. Often this was the first time the books had been available in hardback, which, along with their standardized and attractive new trade dress, made them highly collectible.

Thanks to the books' indicia, I can pretty much determine the order A&B published them in (or at least the ones before they changed the cover design; after that I'm less sure, as A&B stopped listing the previous novels at the start of each book in order of their – A&B's – publication; instead they mixed them up with various other books in their American Crime series), which, if you're remotely interested, wasn't the order they were originally published in the sixties. I'm still not entirely sure why A&B published them out of order; I know some of the reasoning was movie-related (i.e. to tie in with a new film release), but that doesn't explain all their choices. I could hazard a guess that perhaps some of the previous UK Coronet editions from the seventies were still in print, limiting A&B's options, but I couldn't say for sure.

Anyway. For anyone still reading, you have my condolences. No, I mean, for anyone still reading, here are the Allison & Busby Parker novels (some of them, anyway; note the 'Part 1' in the title. I'll get around to Part 2 some time. Maybe.), in order of publication, with scintillating notes to boot.













1) Slayground. Originally Parker #14, A&B kicked off their editions with this in 1984, to tie in with the (by all accounts rubbish) movie version of the book. As with all the A&B editions, the jacket design is by Mick Keates, about whom I know next to nothing, other than he did a fair bit of design work for A&B. But I do know his designs for A&B's Parker books, particularly the first eight they published, are rather striking. The first six of those eight used foil blocking on the (biiiiig) title and (little) illo on each cover. They might not be the most revolutionary cover designs, but with their flat colours and bold typography, they make these editions instantly recognizable. I like 'em. Slayground is set in a funfair, hence those little human targets on the cover. Neat, huh?

I picked up my copy of Slayground fairly cheap, but you'd be lucky to nab one for less than £30, and more like £40-£60. It's probably mid-range in terms of rarity – I've seen maybe ten or so for sale online. As with a lot of these A&B hardback editions (although less so with some of the paperbacks-of-hardbacks), most of the copies are in the States, as they were all distributed in the US as well as the UK, so there are less copies residing in the UK than you'd think.













2) The Rare Coin Score, 1984; originally Parker #9. This is the only one of the A&B first eight hardbacks I don't own. Instead I have a seventies Coronet paperback. So far as I can tell, all the copies for sale online are in the US. But don't you worry: I'll get one eventually. Again, this is mid-range rare. So, the question is, why did A&B decide to publish the seventh Parker novel second? You can understand them starting with Slayground because of the movie, but why not follow up with Point Blank, which spawned the best known film adaptation of all of them? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?













3) Point Blank, 1984; originally Parker #1 (duh). There are a few copies of this available online from the UK, around the £20-£30 mark, and a few more from the US. But it's a popular one, what with it being the first Parker, so copies don't hang around long. Note the slight change in trade dress: Richard Stark's name is promoted to the top of the cover, and we also get the "Donald E. Westlake writing as", to clear up any confusion. This book is brilliant, obviously. Read it. Although weirdly I think I might possibly prefer this one:













4) The Man with the Getaway Face, 1985; originally Parker #2. I think this is the most common of the A&B hardback editions – there are plenty of copies online from the UK and the US, starting around the £15 mark. Why that is I don't know, although it's possible A&B noted that sales on Point Blank were higher than the Parkers they'd previously published and upped the print run on The Man with the Getaway Face as a result. Pure conjecture on my part, but that would make sense. As I miiiiiight have just mentioned before, my copy of this lived in a library in Orkney for a large part of its life. I like to picture it sitting up there on a shelf, largely unread judging by the condition, all lonely, just waiting for me to track it down. God I'm weird. Anyway, Parker gets plastic surgery in this one, hence the face on the cover.













5) The Score, 1985; originally Parker #5. Hey! Allison & Busby published this one in the right order! Well done that publisher. Not quite as common as The Man with the Getaway Face, but there are still a good fifteen or so of 'em online, ranging from £20 to £50. I think they're all in the US though. I'm reading this one at the moment, so I'm not sure what the significance of the truck on the cover is. I do know the story follows Parker and eleven of his pals as they rob an entire town. Which, you have to admit, is a fantastic idea for a story.













6) The Split, 1985; originally Parker #7. This one's pretty rare. There's maybe four or five copies for sale online, so price-wise you're looking at around £40 and up. As noted previously, I had to get mine from the States. The story in this one follows the aftermath of an American football game heist, which is why that American football player's on the cover. You see what Mr. Keates did there? OK, it's obvious, but it works.













7) The Handle, 1985; originally Parker #8. Another rare one: you'd have to get one from America and it'd cost you at least £50-£60, probably more (I was lucky and found one in the UK for much less). I'm guessing A&B cut back their print runs again at this point. Also at this point we lose the foil blocking on the covers: it's just white on black, with no special treatment. Still a fab cover though. Although not as fab as this:













8) The Sour Lemon Score, 1985; originally Parker #12. This is the rarest of the lot. I've seen one copy for sale for about £60, but otherwise you're looking at well over £100. Again, no foil blocking on this, but it doesn't need it: I love that cracked design. Top marks that man Keates.

The Sour Lemon Score was the last of the A&B hardbacks in that style; thereafter the hardbacks looked more like this:













But that'll have to wait till Part 2, if I ever get round to it. Phew. And we're done! If you've made it this far, you deserve a prize. I need to go lie down now.

New Arrivals!

A couple more books turned up yesterday. Namely:













A US hardback first edition of Comeback. Published in 1997, Comeback was Richard Stark's first Parker novel in over twenty years, following the final book in the original Parker run, 1974's Butcher's Moon. I could've picked up a UK first hardback edition instead (and in fact I may still...), but I decided to get the US one, for three reasons. One is that the Robert Hale UK hardback didn't see light until 2001, which is four years after the US one; I don't know why that matters to me, but it does. (Actually, I probably do know why: I'm a nerd.) Another reason is I like the cover of the US edition, which I think is the only one of the later Parker US first editions to have a pictorial cover; subsequent ones went for a more typographical approach, along the lines of this:













the second 'new' Parker book. It's a design I'm not keen on, so I'll switch to the UK Robert Hale first editions after Comeback I think, which had illustrated covers. Should have one of those arriving soon, so I'll post a cover then. And the third reason is to do with symmetry. And I'll explain that one very soon...

And the other new arrival was this:













The 1985 Allison & Busby hardback edition of The Split, a.k.a. The Seventh, which, unsurprisingly, is the seventh Parker novel. This one I had to get from America; the only copy I could find in the UK was an ex-library book with one of the pages torn out. I don't mind ex-library books per se – I rather like my copy of The Man with the Getaway Face I got from Orkney Library – but I'd rather a book were complete.

And now I have The Split, I reckon it's about time for another Parker Progress Report, stuffed with lots of exciting information about Allison & Busby's publishing history with the Parker books. Exciting, that is, to no one but me. Let's do that in a separate post though.

Payback

A synchronous (or should that be serendipitous?) diversion last night: Payback was on telly. For those who don't know, Payback is the 1999 movie version of the first Parker novel, The Hunter/Point Blank, previously filmed as Point Blank in 1967. Infamously Payback was re-cut by the studio after director Brian Helgeland's version was deemed too dark; the director's cut later came out on DVD in the States (but not in the UK) and is supposed to be the better version. I still haven't seen that version; the one on telly last night was the studio version. And actually, watching it again, it held up better than I remembered.

A number of things struck me:

1) I'd forgotten the desaturated look of the film, which I rather liked (apparently this effect is removed in the director's cut).

2) I thought Mel Gibson made a pretty good Parker (or Porter, as he's called in the movie). He's too short, and he's a bit too flippant in some of the scenes, but generally he looks right and acts mean.

3) Having now read The Hunter, which I hadn't the first time I saw Payback, I was surprised by how close large parts of the film are to the novel. Sure, the movie diverges in places, but a lot of the novel is in there, and even the dialogue is often lifted right from the page. It's not a brilliant adaptation, but it's not too bad, and as a film it has its moments.

4) Mel Gibson smokes really well. Unlike a lot of movies and TV, you can really see/feel him draw the smoke in. And you can hear it in his voice.

5) That's yer lot.

Lawks a' mercy, missus, it's The List!

Well after last week's pathetic showing of one comic, which meant it wasn't even worth going to the comic shop, this week is looking... not that great either. There are only two definite buys for me:

Batman & Robin #11: Grant Morrison, Batman, a-yup.

Turf #1. This is the Jonathan Ross/Tommy Lee Edwards gangsters 'n' aliens comic book. From the previews I've seen it looks like Ross could do with an editor – some of those captions and word balloons are reeeeaally long – but it'll be interesting to wead Wossy's first comics effort.

There are a couple of other comics I might try: Avengers The Origin #1 is Joe Casey and Phil Noto's take on those original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby sixties Avengers comics, filling in the gaps between the panels; and Spider-Man Fever #1 marks Brendan McCarthy's return to comics, which should be colourful if nothing else.

I'm tired today, which is why this post might be a bit flat. Harumph.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

And in a suitable coda

to the previous post, I just received a cancellation notice from Amazon for the "secret" Parker book I found. Turns out it was so secret the bookseller didn't actually have it.

Buying second hand books online

can be an unsettling, feverish experience. On the one hand, pretty much any book you care to mention will probably be available online somewhere, whether it's on Amazon, AbeBooks, Biblion, or countless other internet aggregators and dealers. On the other hand, having so much information at your fingertips is often bewildering. Quite apart from questions of cost (thanks to the interweb, old books may be more available than ever, but they can still be bloody expensive), condition (can you really trust whatever scant description of a book a dealer's bothered to offer?) and shipping (what if a book's only available overseas? Do you take the chance it'll make its way to you safely?), the sheer number of dealers online makes comparing and contrasting a logistical nightmare.

Take Amazon. You'd think that any dealer worth their salt would sell their books through the biggest online retailer. But you'd be wrong. There might be copies of a book you're looking for on Amazon, but there might also be further copies on AbeBooks that aren't listed on Amazon, despite the fact that Amazon now own AbeBooks. There might also be more copies on Biblion, or Alibris, or on some small bookshop's own website. Working out who's got what (and in the case of the non-Amazon aggregators like AbeBooks, if they even still have it; the listings on these websites don't always get updated once a book's sold), what they're selling it for, and where it is is time-consuming and frustrating. You could try BookFinder (which I've only just discovered; sigh), which aggregates results from loads of dealers, but I doubt even that will give you the whole picture.

But even simply looking on Amazon can be confusing. For instance, I've only recently discovered that there are "hidden" listings on Amazon – or at least hidden to me until I worked out they were there. When I've been searching for a book on Amazon, under the (hopefully, but not necessarily) correct edition of the book, I've been clicking straight to the "3 used" link under the title, which I've taken to mean there are only three second hand copies of the book available. But I've been missing a trick. Because if you click on the actual title of the book and go to its full listing, you might also find there are other copies available under "collectible". These don't always show up on the short listing, so unless you click on that edition's fill title listing, you'll miss them completely.

Which I have been. Until now. Luckily, with all the Allison & Busby Richard Stark/Parker novels I've been picking up, there's only one instance where I've seen a very slightly cheaper copy than the one I bought. But it's a close call on a couple of others. And I've just nabbed another A&B Parker on Amazon that I had no idea was there.

I guess I shouldn't really complain. Pre-internet, getting hold of these books would've been next to impossible. But a part of me slightly hankers after that more innocent time. Things were so much simpler then.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Stark Cutaway


I've read four of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's Parker novels now (well, nearly; I haven't quite finished The Mourner yet), and there's a device that Westlake employs in each book, usually two-thirds or so into the story (although earlier in the first novel, Point Blank). Essentially he cuts away from Parker's story – the books aren't written in the first person, but they are largely told from Parker's perspective – and focuses instead on a different character (or characters), one he's introduced earlier in the book.

Point Blank contains the most celebrated example of this, where during Part Two we cut away to follow Mal, the Outfit man who's double-crossed Parker, and stay with Mal right up to the point Parker re-enters the story in a surprising fashion. (As an aside, and related to this earlier post, the 1984 Allison & Busby edition of the book slightly fluffs this reveal with an error, substituting a "when" for what had been a "saw". Well done again there, A&B proofreaders.) The Outfit, the third Parker novel, cuts away to follow multiple heists, while The Mourner (Parker #4) leaves Parker for dead before cutting away.

But my favourite cutaway so far, I think, is in The Man with the Getaway Face (Parker #2), and involves the unfortunate Stubbs. In its own way, the switch to Stubbs' story in Part Three is as surprising as the reappearance of Parker in Point Blank. Westlake lulls us into a false sense of security: the heist has gone well, the double-cross even better. And then the rug gets pulled out from underneath Parker's feet and everything goes to pot. End of Part Two. Then we get Part Three, and all of a sudden we're in a parallel detective tale, as we follow Stubbs on a woozy manhunt – woozy because Stubbs is the dumbest detective imaginable. A former Communist Party activist, repeated head injuries have left him in a severely befuddled state. But that only makes him and his adventure more entertaining, as he bumps into dead end after dead end and tries to keep himself on track.

And best of all it all leads up to a twist right at the end of the novel that brilliantly deflates the whole enterprise. So that's why I reckon The Man with the Getwaway Face has the best Stark Cutaway (so far, anyway).