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


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.


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.