Friday, 7 July 2017

Some Science Fiction Books Bought Near Brighton Station

Just outside Brighton Station, round and down and through the tunnel at the top of Trafalgar Street, there is, on days when the weather is clement, a pavement book stall. I walk past it every fortnight or so (having got the train over from Lewes), usually on a Wednesday on my way to Dave's Comics on Sydney Street. It's rare that I don't take at least a cursory glance at the books on its three or four tables – a mixture of mostly recognisable fiction and non-fiction, for the most part paperbacks, some hardbacks, along with kids' annuals and picture books (and even some DVDs) – but in all the years I've been trotting past I can't recall ever having actually bought anything. Until last month, when I spotted a small box full of science fiction – mainly paperbacks, one or two hardbacks. Given my Damascene rediscovery of SF earlier in the year, I reasoned it would be remiss of me not to stop and have a proper rummage, and after a few minutes came up with four paperbacks I liked the look of. Then the guy manning the stall – not the regular guy, it should be noted – advised me that it was three books for a fiver, so naturally I added a couple more, to wind up with this little lot – largely space opera, all first printings, one a hardback:


Top row, left to right: Born Under Mars by John Brunner, published by Ace (US) in 1967, cover by John Schoenherr; The Infinitive of Go, also by John Brunner, published by Magnum in 1981, cover by Chris Moore; Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss, published in hardback by The Friday Project in 2013, cover design by Ifan Bates. Bottom row, left to right: Titan by John Varley, published by Futura/Orbit in 1979, cover by Peter Andrew Jones (with interior illustrations by Freff); Kinsman by Ben Bova, published by Future/Orbit in 1979, cover by Colin Hay; Capella's Golden Eyes by Christopher Evans, published by Granada in 1982, cover by Peter Gudynas.


I was especially pleased with the Varley and the Evans – Varley is an author I'm very interested in right now, while Evans is a name I'm unfamiliar with but who comes recommended by Christopher Priest – but they all look promising, and together constitute quite a nice little score, all the more so for being so unexpected. The temporary stall-holder told me the books were his rather than the regular proprietor's and that he had more science fiction in storage, which he would dig out and bring along on a day I would be likely to be passing, if the weather was clement. I've been by the stall a couple of times since – on clement days – but as yet no luck. I live in hope.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Secondhand Bookshops of the Isle of Wight, or, Wot I Did on My Summer Holidays

It's been a few years since I last did a 'secondhand bookshops wot I visited on holiday and the books wot I bought' post, for the simple reason that it's been a few years since I've been on a holiday where visiting secondhand bookshops and buying books was any kind of prospect. Happily, last week's week-long excursion to the Isle of Wight presented a number of opportunities for browsing in bookshops, and knowing how much my largely imaginary audience has enjoyed previous accounts of my ridiculous holidays, I decided I'd document the books-related bits of this one too. You're very welcome, my nonexistent readership.


Before we got the ferry over to the Isle of Wight I established (via Inprint's Bookshop Guide) that there are eight secondhand bookshops dotted about the island. Given that this was supposed to be a holiday and not merely a flimsy excuse for my seeking out secondhand bookshops, I thought it unlikely I'd get to visit more than a couple, but in the end, to my surprise, I managed to make it to half. (It would've been more but Babushka Books in Shanklin was inexplicably shut when I visited. Or maybe not so inexplicably, considering the vagaries of secondhand bookshop opening times.) However, by far the biggest haul of books came from a comic shop.


First port of call was the Mother Goose Bookshop on the village green in St. Helens, on the east side of the island. I only had a limited amount of time to investigate as we were on our way to the seaside town of Ryde, a little further up the coast, but it was a sizeable shop with an extensive stock of modern firsts (and plenty of non-fiction too). After a survey of the shelves I located in the crime and thriller section a first edition of The Double Agent (Gollancz, 1966), the first spy novel by ex-spy (and reportedly the inspiration for George Smiley) John Bingham – a book I've had on my list for quite some time.


That find paled in comparison to the riches Ryde itself offered up. I'd intended to head straight to the Ryde Bookshop, a fair way up the hilly high street, but on the way I noticed a comic shop, the splendidly named Fantastic Store, and decided to pop in. On first inspection it seemed to stock mostly back issues, graphic novels and collectables, as one would expect of a comic shop, but a further survey revealed a few shelves of hardback and paperback fiction. This turned out to be largely science fiction, a fair amount of it first editions (albeit ex-library in some cases – those keenly priced, mind, at two quid a pop) – just the sort of thing I was hoping to stumble upon given my recently reignited enthusiasm for SF. Accordingly, I went a little crazy. Besides the 1971 Science Fiction Book Club edition of Murray Leinster's The Listeners seen above, I also came away with nine other books, most of them space opera of one sort or another:


Top row left to right: a US first edition of Gregory Benford's Great Sky River (Bantam/Spectra 1987, jacket by Roger Bergendorf), the third novel in Benford's Galactic Centre Saga – the first being In the Ocean of the Night, which I bought online few weeks ago; a first edition of Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (Gollancz, 1990, jacket by John Brettoner); a first edition of The Brooch of Azure Midnight by Anne Gay (Orbit, 1991, jacket by Fred Gambino); and a first edition of Eternal Light by Paul J. McAuley (Gollancz, 1991, jacket by John Brettoner again), the third and final novel in McAuley's Four Hundred Billion Stars Series – the first being Four Hundred Billion Stars itself, which again I bought online a few weeks ago. Bottom row left to right: A. E. Van Vogt's Children of Tomorrow (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1972); James Blish's Midsummer Century (Faber, 1973); Clifford D. Simak's Cemetery World (Sidgwick, 1975); John Wyndham's Exiles on Asperus (Severn House, 1979), and Paul J. McAuley's short story collection The King of the Hill (Gollancz, 1991).


Phew. After all that excitement, Ryde Bookshop initially looked somewhat unpromising, its stock comprising remainder and newish books. However, an easily overlooked – not least because it was closed – door in the back room opened onto the secondhand bookshop proper. Slightly labyrinthine in nature and arranged over a few floors and staircases, it was overflowing with books, a lot of them either the kind of hardback fiction one sees littering charity shops, or not terribly interesting paperbacks. But there was a sizeable SF section, and some decent books secreted therein. I came away with these:


A first edition/printing of Alastair Reynolds' Terminal World (Gollancz, 2010); a first paperback edition of John Varley's debut novel The Ophiuchi Hotline (Orbit/Futura, 1978; I already had a Sidgwick & Jackson hardback first, but I couldn't resist that Chris Foss cover); a 1997 Vista paperback of Paul J. McAuley's Secret Harmonies (originally 1989, and the second in the Four Hundred Billion Stars Series), and a first paperback edition of Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain (Gollancz, 2005).


The next day I made it to one of the two secondhand bookshops situated in Freshwater, near the Needles on the west coast of the island. The charming and inviting Mrs. Middleton's Shop had a small selection of fiction but specialised more in local authors and books about the Isle of Wight (while I was there another customer asked after a particular Isle of Wight book and was immediately rewarded). Nevertheless, I came away with a 1969 New English Library paperback of A. E. Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher (cover by Bruce Pennington), plucked from the bijou shop's equally bijou shelf of science fiction paperbacks. When I asked Mrs. Middleton – I presume it was she – if the other Freshwater bookshop, Cameron House Books down near Freshwater Bay, had a bigger selection of modern firsts she confirmed that it did, but advised that the owner tended to close at four – earlier if custom was slow. This was at just after three, so I reckoned I was in with a shot. Alas, by the time we got there...


...it was shut. Curses. Fortunately we were able to make a return visit the next day, and even more fortunately this time it was open!


Just as bijou as Mrs. Middleton's but boasting a much bigger selection of modern firsts, Cameron House Books is housed in Dimbola Lodge, once the home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and now a gallery devoted to her work and that of other photographers (it's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area, if only for the excellent lemon drizzle cake served in the cafe). The bookshop comprises just two smallish rooms, but I must've spent a good half hour browsing its wares, at the end of which I'd ferreted out five science fiction first (and other) editions (again some ex-library – evidently the Isle of Wight County Library's loss was the local bookshops' gain – but again keenly priced):


Top row left to right: Dark Constellation by Alex Random (Robert Hale, 1975); The Omega Worm by Douglas R. Mason (Hale, 1976), and Another Eden by W. D. Pereira (Hale, 1976). Bottom row: Threads of Time (Millington, 1975), edited and introduced by Robert Silverberg and containing novellas by Gregory Benford (Threads of Time), Clifford D. Simak (The Marathon Photograph) and Norman Spinrad (Riding the Torch); and Yesteday's Children by David Gerrold (Readers Union, 1975).

Not a bad haul. And not a bad holiday either. (And the non-books bits weren't bad neither.)

Friday, 2 June 2017

2017: A Science Fiction Odyssey


It's all The Forever War's fault.

Actually, way back when the Earth was young (or at least it sometimes feels that far back), it's probably fairer to say it was the fault of Doctor Who novelisations and Ray Bradbury collections and Glenn Chandler's short story "Bobo's Star" (an alarming tale with a mind-blowingly bleak ending which properly shat me up when I read it in the 1979 anthology Space 5, alongside Bradbury's equally unnerving "A Sound of Thunder"), all of which got me hooked on science fiction as a kid (most of those books borrowed from Beckenham Library). But in the here(ish) and now(ish) it was reading Joe Haldeman's 1974 novel that got me back into science fiction in a major way.

Not that I'd completely stopped reading (and collecting) SF, although in recent years my forays into the genre have either been at the more dystopian end of the scale – J. G. Ballard's High-RiseEmily St. John Mandell's Station Eleven and Justin Cronin's The City of Mirrors spring to mind – or taken the form of comics like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West or Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko's Invisible Republic. It was more that, for the most part, SF had taken a back seat to crime fiction, spy fiction and, increasingly over the last year or so, comics and graphic novels (constant companions, but ones that have been drawing more of my attention in recent years).


Then, in March of this year, I bought a British first edition of The Forever War at the Lewes Book Fair, and read it, and loved it, and found that I'd rediscovered my fervour for SF. I set about looking for books similar to The Forever War, a quest which led me to the kind of contemporary hard (well 'ard mate) SF that has its roots in the work of Arthur C. Clarke (a writer I was already more than familiar with) and the new form of space opera that came to prominence from the late 1970s. In charity shops and secondhand bookshops in Lewes and Brighton and Chichester and Eastbourne I turned up a stack of science fiction first (and other) editions (notably a ten-book haul from Camilla's in Eastbourne, ferretted out from that shop's precarious multi-layered piles) by Alastair Reynolds, Gregory Benford, Bruce Sterling, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter and Clarke himself, while explorations online turned up key works by Reynolds, Benford, Paul J. McAuley and John Varley.


My guide through all of this, often as not, has been the afterword in Alastair Reynolds' collection of short stories Galactic North (a first edition of which I found in Brighton's Oxfam Books), which details the inspiration for the Revelation Space universe stories Galactic North is a part of – a future history I'll be further investigating (I snagged a scarce hardback first edition of Revelation Space itself online for less than a tenner – an absolute steal) alongside Reynolds' other work (I've already read his recent novella Slow Bullets, his 2016 novel Revenger and his and Stephen Baxter's The Medusa Chronicles – all three in signed first editions).


Then there are the many vintage SF paperbacks I've been picking up here, there and everywhere – at April's Paperback and Pulp Bookfair in London, in Kim's in Chichester, in Revive-All in the Needlemakers in Lewes and in Ubu Books in Brighton's Open Market – books by Clifford D. Simak, Samuel R. Delany, Gavin Lyall (of all people), Robert A. Heinlein, Keith Roberts, Christopher Priest, Louis Trimble, Edmund Cooper, Colin Kapp, Joe Haldeman (him again), Gordon R. Dickson and Barrington J. Bayley, sporting fabulous cover art by the likes of John Schoenherr, Ed Valigursky, Jerome Podwil, Jack Gaughan, Bob Haberfield, Chris Foss, Frank Kelly Freas, Tony Roberts, Josh Kirby and Peter Elson.


Add to those another stack of more modern space opera by David Brin, Greg Bear, Kim Stanley Robinson and Peter F. Hamilton, acquired at the most recent Lewes Book Fair, plus a couple more Hamiltons bought from Brighton's Savery Books, and it seems I have quite a bit of reading ahead of me, about which I'm quite excited. Which is good because, to be frank, prior to reading The Forever War I'd pretty much lost all enthusiasm for prose fiction; I think I only managed to read six novels last year – and most of those in the first month or two – and this year was looking like it was heading in a similar direction until Haldeman, Harrison (whose Light – a 2002 first edition of which I bought ages ago – I also recently read and loved), Reynolds and the rest hoved into view. So hooray for them, and for space opera, and for science fiction... and for me too. My 2017 SF odyssey... continues.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Cosmic Outlaws and Ultimate Sticker Collection by... Me!


Well, me and a bunch of editors and designers and picture researchers at DK and Amazing15, not to mention the writers, artists and editors at Marvel – among them Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Jim Starlin, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, Andy Schmidt, Bill Rosemann and Brian Michael Bendis – who had a hand in creating and expanding upon the Guardians of the Galaxy in comics. But anyway; Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Cosmic Outlaws and Guardians of the Galaxy: Ultimate Sticker Collection have now been published by DK in the UK and US, and since I wrote both of them, and copies turned up in the post yesterday, I figured they deserved a blog post.


Of the two, I guess I'm proudest of The Ultimate Guide, if only because I put so much into it – a period of five or six months over summer of last year establishing the structure and running order, doing the research (which essentially entailed reading or in some cases rereading a bunch of old comics), selecting images (which again essentially entailed reading or in some cases rereading a bunch of old comics) and writing. (My abiding memory of this period is of pacing round the garden trying to get my brain cells sparking in between feverish bouts at the keyboard.) But it's also the thing of having written a book – not cowritten, as in The Mysterious World of Doctor Strange, or written a bit of, as in my essays in the first volume of Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future and last year's Murder in the Closet or an entry or two in The DC Comics Encyclopaedia, or edited, as in the countless books and graphic novels I've, well, edited; but written. Actually written.


Obviously it's not a peerless work of literary genius or owt, but it's a pretty good read, I think, with hopefully a compelling structure which I strived to make not only chronological – as is traditional in these DK comics guides – but narrative as well, tracing the wider Marvel cosmic events that brought the disparate Guardians of the Galaxy together (about a quarter of the book concentrates on matters to do with Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, which took place before Star-Lord, Rocket, Gamora, Groot and Drax were even a team), buffeted them and then blew them apart, and taking care on each character spread to only detail those events that had happened to that character up to the point they entered the wider narrative (if that makes sense). Whether anyone will notice or even care about my efforts to make the book something you can satisfyingly read front to back almost as a story as well as dip in and out of – especially the kids the book is aimed at – is open to debate, but I'm pleased my structure made it through the process intact.


As for the Ultimate Sticker Collection, that for me was an exercise in brevity (not something that comes naturally to me, as anyone who's read Existential Ennui can attest), as I tried to squeeze info about the Guardians and their allies, enemies and worlds into 25-word captions in an entertaining fashion. I didn't get as involved in choosing images as I did on The Ultimate Guide – not least because The Ultimate Guide was taking up so much of my time (I was writing both books concurrently) – but I gave what directions I was able to, and the end result is a lot of fun (my three-year-old daughter can't wait to get sticking).


So there you have it. The books exist. You can buy them right now (for instance here and here). And if you're unfamiliar with the Guardians of the comics – not just the Star-Lord-led team but the original 31st-century Vance Astro-led team too – and fancy finding out about them ahead of the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie (which opens in a few weeks), perhaps you'll consider doing just that.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: A First Edition from the Lewes Book Fair

Last Saturday's Lewes Book Fair proved something of a books bonanza, both for me and for my three- (nearly four- by gum) year-old daughter. For Edie I bought a stack of vintage 1970s/80s/90s picture books by, among others, Brian Wildsmith, Shirley Hughes, Spike Milligan and W. Somerset Maugham (I might do a separate post on those at some point), while I came away with a signed first of Posy Simmonds' Gemma Bovery (Cape, 1999), a Ron Goulart-edited anthology of pulp crime fiction, The Hardboiled Dicks (Boardman, 1967) and paperback firsts of Peter George's Dr. Strangelove novelisation (Corgi, 1963) and Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection (Ace, 1967, with terrific cover art by Jack Gaugham). Best of all, just as I was leaving after a couple of hours browsing I spied this on the shelves belonging to the fair's organiser John Beck (himself a book dealer):


A British first edition of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in 1975 (the year after the US St. Martin's first) with a spectacular dust jacket design by Nick Sutton (much better, I reckon, than the American one). It's a book I've wanted to get my hands on for a while – indeed I saw this very copy on John's shelves at the Lewes Book Fair a good four or five years ago. At the time it was priced a little too prohibitively for me, but for this return outing John had reduced the price to a fraction of what a British first in this condition (near-fine) usually fetches (at least £100), and since it's my birthday this coming Saturday I figured fuck it, I'm gonna treat myself.


I'm halfway through reading it and thus far I love it. Originally serialised in Analog and widely acclaimed as the best science fiction war novel ever written, it's narrated by William Mandella, a conscript in the United Nations Exploratory Force who undergoes military training and conditioning before being dispatched to deep space to fight the alien Taurans from the distant Aldebaran system. The human characters are barely sketched in – still less the aliens, although in their case its obviously intentional, their obfuscation serving the narrative – but that doesn't matter: where the novel comes into its own is in its depiction of the methods and tactics of space warfare, and how relativity plays havoc with the combatants. For example, in their second encounter with the Taurans, Mandella and his compatriots learn that while for them only eight months have passed since the first battle, for the Taurans, almost a decade has elapsed – the effect of time dilation, the humans having lost nine years manoeuvring between collapsars (black holes) in their ship, the Anniversary. As a consequence, Tauran weapons systems have advanced dramatically, putting the humans at a distinct tactical disadvantage. In effect, the Tauran vessel the crew of the Anniversary encounters comes from their future.

This "future shock" becomes more pronounced when Mandella returns to Earth, where twenty-six years have passed to his two and society has changed beyond recognition – even more so seeing as the Earth he started out on was already markedly different to our own. I've peeked ahead in the book and the years stated at the start of each section advance from 2024 to 2389 to 2458 to 3143, so I suspect there's wilder stuff to come. If the second half of the novel lives up to the first, I may well investigate the sequel, Forever Free (1999), and maybe some of the other thematically linked novels and stories in the Forever War series, or perhaps later editions of the original novel, which apparently include material that was left out of the first edition. Either way, it's reignited a long-dormant desire for some more science fiction, a hankering that could perhaps be sated by some of the other SF books on my shelves (which I recently rearranged slightly following an office move... from the front of the house to the back).


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Terrorists, alias Double, Double: a Calder and Behrens Story by Michael Gilbert

Among the 185 short stories that British crime and mystery author Michael Gilbert wrote over the course of his 50-year career are 24 spy stories starring Daniel Calder and Samuel Behrens, malevolent late middle-aged operatives of the External Branch of the Joint Services Standing Intelligence Committee. Originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the US and Argosy in the UK, almost all of the Calder and Behrens stories were collected in two Gilbert anthologies – the sublime Game Without Rules (1967) and the almost as brilliant Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (1982). (Gilbert also wrote 16 radio plays featuring his ageing secret agents, which I discussed last month.) But there is one Calder and Behrens story which doesn't feature in either of those books. It first appeared in 1967 under the title "The Terrorists" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and "Double, Double" in Argosy, before being collected in this anthology:


Ellery Queen's Mystery Parade, published by Gollancz in 1969 under one of that publisher's iconic yellow typographic dust jackets. Being a UK edition of a US collection – the book was originally published by New American Library in the States in 1968 – the title of "The Terrorists" was retained; it wasn't until 2007 that the story was published in book form under its British title of "Double, Double", when it was included in the posthumous Michael Gilbert collection Even Murderers Take Holidays.

I'm not sure why it wasn't collected in the 1982 Calder and Behrens anthology (it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Argosy too late to have been included in Game Without Rules) but I can hazard a guess or two. In Argosy, it was published under the overarching series title of "Agents in Action" in the April 1967 issue. Part one of that series, "Upon the King", was published in the March issue and collected in Game Without Rules, while part three, "Twilight of the Gods", was published in the May issue and collected in Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens, so perhaps "The Terrorists" fell between two stools. Or it could be that it was simply overlooked; on first inspection, Calder and Behrens barely seem to feature at all in the story, merely getting a couple of mentions towards the end.


In fact for the unsuspecting Calder/Behrens enthusiast only a passing reference to Fortescue – Calder and Behrens' boss – at the start of the tale gives the game (without rules) away that "The Terrorists" is a part of their canon. The pair do appear throughout, but under assumed names and identities, both of them operating undercover as a means of unpicking a plot by a middle-eastern terrorist cell to set off a bomb in London (there's a nice, explicitly acknowledged, bit of misdirection as to which of the terrorists Calder and/or Behrens is). It's a good story, well worth the effort, I would say – at least for those aforementioned Calder/Behrens enthusiasts – of tracking it down – something that shouldn't prove too difficult for anyone so inclined; while the Gollancz edition is pretty scarce and the New American Library edition not much more common, there are at least half a dozen copies of the 1969 Signet paperback edition available online as I type, and fairly cheaply too.


For my part, having now collected and read "The Terrorists", Game Without Rules and Mr. Calder & Mr. Behrens (and the two published radio plays in The Murder of Diana Devon), I'm left in the sorry situation of having no more Calder and Behrens stories to track down. At least, that I'm aware of...

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 10/4/17.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Iris Murdoch, Graham Greene, Alan Hunter, The Walking Dead and More on eBay


I've got a bunch of eBay auctions running at the minute, right here:

Existential Ennui eBay auctions

Up for grabs are four scarce early issues of The Walking Dead comic (#3–6, December 2003–March 2004) along with first editions of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Harry Carmichael's A Question of Time, Alan Hunter's Vivienne: Gently Where She Lay, Michael Dibdin's Ratking and Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs. If any of those float your boat, go take a gander.


Feel free to ask any questions – in the comments here, via the email in my profile, or on eBay – and if you do decide to bid, best of luck.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

David Mazzucchelli Comics: Short Stories in Various Anthologies, 1991–2013


At the apex of his relatively brief career in superhero comics – he drew his first comic for Marvel, Master of Kung Fu #121, in 1983 and had all but left the genre by 1987 – David Mazzucchelli helped redefine and reshape superhero storytelling with two acknowledged classics, both in collaboration with Frank Miller: Daredevil: Born Again (originally serialized in 1986 in Daredevil #227–233) and Batman: Year One (originally serialized in 1987 in Batman #404–407). (I read both on original publication and still consider the latter in particular among the best comics I've ever read.) When Mazzucchelli spoke to The Comics Journal in 1997 he told interviewer Christopher Brayshaw that he left superhero comics for three reasons: that he was not a violent person, and so had no connection to the fisticuffs aspect of superhero comics (quite a big component of the genre); that the schedule of doing a monthly comic "was starting to drive me nuts"; and that the kind of work he liked in other media – film, literature, the performing arts – was very different to the kind of work he himself was doing, in terms of "Subject matter, approach, attitude, everything."


His final work for Marvel (officially; in 1992 he inked a single page of Evan Dorkin's Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book, uncredited) appeared in issue #40 of the anthology Marvel Fanfare (October 1998), a story written by Ann Nocenti titled "Chiaroscuro". In many ways it pointed the way forward for the cartoonist, displaying a looser, more expressionistic line and featuring almost no superheroics (there's a four-panel silhouetted fight sequence on the first page, and the X-Man Angel is the ostensible lead, but otherwise the story is grounded in a suburban milieu).


Mazzucchelli worked from a plot rather than a full script, but he wanted to go further – to write as well as draw his own stories. Set free from the confines of the superhero genre he embarked on a succession of formally challenging, exciting, intriguing, sometimes moving, sometimes perplexing art-comix projects. He's since understandably become best known for the more substantial of these – his three-issue anthology Rubber Blanket; his and Paul Karasik's 1994 graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass; his 2009 masterwork Asterios Polyp. But in amongst those longer projects he contributed numerous shorter pieces to various anthologies. Characterized by a restless inventiveness, some of these stories are possessed of an extraordinary depth and sophistication; others are more fun and light-hearted; but all are considered, thoughtful, and well worth seeking out.

I already had in my comics collection a good number of the anthologies in which Mazzucchelli's work appears, and I recently got hold of a few more; and having just written a profile of Mazzucchelli for the Marvel Fact Files – concentrating naturally on his superhero work – I figured I might write a blog post on some of those smaller and in some cases lesser known works. This blog post, in fact.


One of Mazzucchelli's earliest post-superhero pieces can be found in the third issue of Nicholas Blechman's anthology Nozone, published in 1991 (the same year as the first issue of Rubber Blanket). The theme of the issue – Nozone has a different one each issue – is "Destruction", which in Mazzucchelli's hands becomes "Cold Truth", a wordless two-page story about the tension between the pleasures of making and, well, unmaking.


Mazzucchelli contributed to Nozone twice more, in issues #5 and 6. Copies of Nozone are quite hard to come by, especially in the UK, but as well as finding #3 on eBay I was fortunate enough to come across a copy of #6, the "Crime" issue (1995), in one of my local comic shops, Dave's Books in Brighton. There's no Mazzucchelli short story inside Nozone #6; instead the cartoonist contributes the terrific front and back covers, which tell their own fleeting tale of crime and punishment.


A little easier to get hold of than Nozone are the two issues of Drawn and Quarterly Mazzucchelli contributed to. In Vol. 1 #9 (July 1992) he drew two very short stories: a meditative one-pager on the inside front cover, "Hear the Atoms Splitting", and a jarringly sardonic, aptly angular two-pager, "A Brief History of Civilisation".


Two years later, he contributed the much longer, much-admired "Rates of Exchange" to Vol. 2 #2. Done after he finished City of Glass, Mazzucchelli said of the story (in the aforementioned Comics Journal interview), "I think it's one of my best stories. I think the writing in particular, and by writing I mean the narration and the dialogue and the structuring of it as a story visually is... it was definitely a step for me."


In 1993 Mazzucchelli contributed a story to the third issue of Fantagraphics anthology Snake Eyes (another recent eBay acquisition of mine; I believe he also contributed to the first issue, but I haven't got hold of a copy of that yet; perhaps if – when – I do I'll update this post). In some ways "Phobia" can be considered a precursor to City of Glass; Mazzucchelli told Christopher Brayshaw that he showed the story to Art Spiegelman at the same Angouleme convention where Spiegelman later asked if Mazzucchelli would like to be involved with the City of Glass project (of which Spiegelman was one of the instigators), and it has similar noir trappings, although in the case of "Phobia", these are put to the purpose of satirising the luridly violent stories Mazzucchelli was seeing at the time in mainstream comics. Handily, The whole of "Phobia" can be read on Brian Michael Bendis' tumblr.


Mazzucchelli contributed to another Fantagraphics anthology, Zero Zero, three times during its 27-issue run. The first time was in the second issue, dated May/June 1995, with "Stop the Hair Nude", an uncomfortable and clammy but stylistically virtuoso story about a Japanese censor's obsession with female pubic hair. (A year later he contributed another Japanese-themed story, "Midori", to the first issue of Kodansha anthology Manga Surprise!, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of that – so to speak.) His next contribution, "Stubs" in #11 (August 1996), is in a much lighter vein, although even here there is depth in Mazzucchelli's examination of the folly of youth personified in a pencil. But Mazzucchelli's best Zero Zero story is the final one he contributed, to the anthology's final issue (Summer 2000): the quiet, reflective, drifting, abstract "Still Life" (another Japan-influenced tale which I understand originally appeared in Manga Surprise! #2).



Speaking of Fantagraphics publications, there's a lovely two-page Mazzucchelli comic in The Comics Journal Special Edition Volume One (Winter 2002) – "The Boy Who Loved Comics". Making the most of the oversized 12" square format, with deft lifework and bold use of CMYK colour, stylistically it has a fair bit in common with the later Asterios Polyp, as this blog post by Chris McCarthy points out.


Mazzucchelli contributed to two fairy tale-themed anthologies published over a decade apart. In 2000 his bittersweet take on the Japanese legend "The Fisherman and the Sea Princess" appeared in Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies (RAW Junior/HarperCollins), while in 2013 the more comedic "Give Me the Shudders", based on a Brothers Grimm story, appeared in Fairy Tale Comics (First Second). At ten pages, "Give Me the Shudders" is one of the longer Mazzucchelli anthology short stories I've come across (beaten only by "Rates of Exchange"), and is also, I believe, his most recent work.


A few other short Mazzucchelli pieces I have in my collection are, I think, worthy of note in this context. Negative Burn #17 (Vol. 1, 1994 – again another recent eBay acquisition) reproduces pages from Mazzucchelli's sketchbook – not a must-have, by any means, but still, I'd say, of interest to the Mazzucchelli enthusiast (speaking as one myself). His contribution to Evan Dorkin's Superman and Batman: World's Funnest (DC, 2000), on the other hand, is well worth a look – a four page homage to Jack Kirby's Fourth World which Mazzucchelli spent months perfecting. Lastly, the 2005 edition of Batman: Year One boasts not only copious extras – samples, roughs, marked-up script pages, even Mazzucchelli's first comic page, drawn at age six – but an afterword(s) taking the form of four one-page comics about the artist's personal history with, and feelings about, Batman and superheroes.