Mixed Media: A Shirley Jacksonesque conversation about Shirley Jackson

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The author cannot decide which era’s editions are the most fun to collect

“It’s just that,” said Miss Pryor as she stabbed her cigarette out, “there’s a rather beastly amount of italics.”

“The better to brainwash you with,” said Ms. Queen, who was rather more cynical.

“One hardly knows whether one is reading one’s own version of events or the author’s.” Miss Pryor was not against italicized words, as such — after all, we must expect to set a standard, as she learned from The Road Through the Wall — but they did rather go on. For example, was it really necessary to know where the emphasis fell when Mrs. Merriam said “Well, you don’t need to worry… I was never so shocked”?

“What you are experiencing,” said Ms. Queen crisply, “is resistance to a cultural tone that is just distant enough to strike the reader as slightly archaic. It’s the fallout of a Great War and a Great Depression influencing an author keenly interested in the ways our deliberate social structures crumble in the face of real struggle.”

“And real horror?” asked Miss Pryor hopefully.

“In the broadest possible sense. Which books have you read?”

The Haunting of Hill House. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” Miss Pryor ticked them off on her fingers as she recited. “The Road Through the Wall. Hangsaman. The Sundial. And collected short stories.”

“In which books did a supernatural, external threat figure?”

“Oh, I suppose… well, The Haunting of Hill House and perhaps The Sundial… but it’s very Turn of the Screw, isn’t it, in that you aren’t sure whether the narrator is quite reliable… why, one could hardly name a number!”

Ms. Queen nodded. “Exactly so. Shirley Jackson’s talent lies in growing disease as the strict social orders of her day imploded. Isolated homes figure prominently, often headed by women who would have faced considerable difficulty in gaining social acceptance as heads of household. The poor little girls of The Road Through the Wall, the young remainders of a murdered family in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the dictatorial widow of The Sundial, or poor caretaker Eleanor who, in caring for her shut-in mother, became a shut-in herself.”

“And the lesbians,” offered Miss Pryor, who thought herself rather clever to have noticed.

“Well, yes, including lesbians as sympathetic characters before mainstream literature or society was quite prepared to acknowledge them was perhaps rather marvelous, though you must admit that by identifying those characters with boys’ names– Theo, Tony– the dated narrative remains somewhat problematic.”

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Pricey vintage is fun for the bookshelf, but expect the edition to ruin all surprises and subtleties

“What I hate are the vintage covers,” announced Miss Pryor in a sudden passion. “Why did I pay so much for a charming edition from 1951 only to have the final chapter spoiled for me on the back cover or the introductory summary page? Twice?!”

“Caveat emptor. All decades approach their horror literature differently.”

“I don’t stay after dark,” said Mrs. Dudley, who was beginning to clear away tea.

“It’s as if Jackson had earned such a reputation for terror that the publishers scrambled desperately to distract one from the bulk of the story, which is generally about someone whose inner life, insecurities, and occasionally awkward attempts to find a place in life are so like one’s own that the real horror is how well Shirley Jackson knew the human condition.”

“So there won’t be anyone around if you need help,” said Mrs. Dudley.

Ms. Queen smiled politely. “It’s not for nothing that she has an award named after her .”

“We couldn’t even hear you, in the night,” said Mrs. Dudley. “In the dark.”

“She writes of– and challenges– upper class American society by using it as the lens through which to examine folie a deux, mental illness, sexual molestation, apocalyptic endism, cult psychology, the vicious one-upmanship of the really wealthy–”

“Yes, indeed,” said Ms. Queen hastily. “I think you’ve got the gist now.”

Within Hill House, not sane, floors were firm, doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Dead Universes (part II): Best Practices

Marvel's ad after they bought out Ultraverse.

Marvel’s ad after they bought out Ultraverse.

Thursday I kicked off what’s intended to be a long running series dedicated to the exploration of Dead Universes. Today’s post is dedicated to looking at some of the ‘best practices’ for individuals who think they may want to get into reading or collecting Dead Universes.

1. Have a game plan. Know what you want to collect in advance and how you’ll go about doing it. I haven’t jumped into the original Valiant Universe yet for two reasons. The first is I have a substantial number of Valiant titles in my long boxes, which are 2000 miles away. It’ll be cheaper to mail them across the country over Christmas than to buy duplicates of the first 20 issues of Magnus, Solar, Harbinger, and Archer & Armstrong. The second is I haven’t quite figured out how much of the Valiant universe I want to read. I know I’ll stick through Jim Shooter’s run, but will I seek out everything up until Acclaim tried to turn the company into a video game promotional unit?

For Ultraverse, my demarcation line is roughly Godwheel. That’s when Marvel heroes first started coming into the Ultraverse and when the quality of the titles started to decline significantly.

2. Buy complete runs when possible. This is a bit of advice I wish I’d known going into my quest to acquire Ultraverse titles. Sure you might be able to get Prime 1-10 for $5, but you’ll have a harder time completing the rest of the series. Readers tend to decline the longer a series goes on (which is why Marvel and DC keep canceling and restarting titles), so there are fewer of the later issues in the resale marketplace.

3. Shop around. There’s a vendor on ebay currently selling a complete run of Freex for $45, which is much too high. One month ago I purchased a complete run for $15 ($20 with shipping). I have a rule to never pay more than the number of issues in the run, so essentially $1 per issue. It’s worth repeating that I’m collecting for the stories and not potential future value, so if you want an all near mint line you’ll likely be pay more.

4. Don’t be afraid to wait. If you’re unhappy with the price results coming back don’t be afraid to wait. My generation, the one that grew up during the comic Universe boom of the 90s, is getting to an age where many of us are embarrassed to have junk in our parent’s basement or we need to sacrifice long boxes to make space in our homes for baby cribs.

Next week I’ll take a look at “reading orders” of Dead Universes.

Comix Experience hosting massive sale on Sunday

comixexsaleoctoberComix Experience, 305 Divisadero Street in San Francisco, is promoting a massive sale for Sunday, October 13. According to the flyer posted by shop owner Brian Hibbs on Savage Critic he’ll have “hundreds of graphic novels at a fraction of the price” and “scores of boxes of comics and magazines from our back room.” Items will be “priced by the pound.” The sale will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and is in conjunction with the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Passport 2013 event (Clarification: As Brian Hibbs notes in the comments you don’t need to sign up for Passport to  take part in the sale).

If you’re a fan of supporting independent artists, and if you’re in town for the Alternative Press Expo it’s safe to assume you are, Passport is definitely something you’ll want to consider checking out. Description below:

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Review: The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan

As part of r/horrorlit’s Horror Novel a Day writers, I’m pretty sure of two things: I took on too many novels (six total) and my definition of horror is suspiciously broad.

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Hawkline Monster image courtesy of Grant Hanna at http://granthanna.com

Take The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan. It’s more of a gothic western novella than a horror novel. (It is in fact subtitled A Western Gothic.)

But isn’t deception a solid component of plenty of good horror? I don’t mean my deception of being well-versed in horror novels; I mean the deceptive simplicity with which Beat poet/author Brautigan offers the story. By the time you turn the first page of a chapter you’re almost to the next one. Events unpack in sentences so efficient Hemingway would weep:

The voyage from San Francisco to Hawaii had been the most terrifying experience Greer and Cameron had ever gone through, even more terrible than the time they shot a deputy sheriff in Idaho ten times and he wouldn’t die and Greer finally had to say to the deputy sheriff “Please die because we don’t want to shoot you again.” And the deputy sheriff had said “OK, I’ll die, but don’t shoot me again.”

“We won’t shoot you again,” Cameron had said.

“OK, I’m dead,” and he was.

Characters deceive the reader and others; someone exists and then doesn’t; twins’ identities meld and split fluidly. The nature of the Hawkline Monster itself is a creative bit of fearful imagination from a haunted poet whose life ended in suicide. The places the monsters hides…!

My journey to The Hawkline Monster began with this PWxyz entry.  Gabe Habash’s passionate recommendation might have led me to make a note of the book (from the blog: “Honestly, I’m working really hard to not slip into hyperbole here, to refrain from lapsing into a vocab commensurate with the heights of my appreciation for it. This book is the real deal. I can’t recommend it enough. … Do yourself a favor and give him a try. If you don’t like him, I’ll eat my shoe like Werner Herzog.)” but what urged me to buy the book immediately was Habash’s insistence that only Cronenberg could do justice to a hypothetical film of the story. Cronenberg’s film style is very much to my tastes (the guy’s acting– Cabal, Last Night— also assures him a big warm soft spot in my heart).

While I initially read the book through a Cronenberg filter it was impossible not to love the sparse style on its own merits. One of the ways simplicity aids horror is to lull and fool: the process of reading involves moments of “Uh huh… unfolding as expected… wait, WHAT?” A character dies not through violence but through identity obliteration. (To voluntarily kill a part of yourself that has served its purpose is not terror, but to undergo involuntary mental manipulation is. This book has both.) The monster fights with anger and light. Ice caves under the house keep the grounds in a perpetual state of freeze even in summer. A basement lab holds The Chemicals, the final experiment of a Harvard scientist who enjoyed his teaching position until one of his experiments got loose and ate the family dog in front of the neighbors’ wedding party. A 1902 setting allows for Wild West elements like gunfights, hired guns, hanged men, and brothels. It is a flavorful read.

“All the things that happen are like children’s pranks except the child has supernatural powers,” says one character, and if there’s one thing that horror teaches us it’s that children with undue power wield it in horrific ways (thanks, Twilight Zone). While nighttime shivers are unlikely, The Hawkline Monster deserves a place in a thoughtful horror canon on the basis of its dissection of what is frightening and how to write about it.

Going to APE via BART? Make back up plans. UPDATE: STRIKE ON HOLD

bartUPDATE: 7:37 a.m. Friday, BART and union officials have said they’ll continue to negotiate through the weekend. Now the earliest a strike could happen is Monday and APE attendees can expect to transport as originally planned.

A potential strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers could cause some headaches for attendees of the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this weekend. Negotiations continue at this hour between unions representing the BART employees and management. APE has comprehensive transportation instructions on it’s website for both driving and taking MUNI. There are quite a few parking options around the Concourse, but if BART isn’t running there will likely be a higher concentration of cars than usual. Be sure to budget for at the least $20 per day for parking. The expo  provides free shuttles from CalTrain on Townsend, Westfield Shopping Center, and the Civic Center BART station.

If negotiations break down the strike could start as early as midnight tonight.

The BART workers, represented by SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, have been seeking their first wage increase in five years. Four years ago they chose not to request a wage increase so they could help BART cope with the economic downturn. BART also cut back on safety measures and instated a hiring freeze four years ago. BART ridership has been increasing, so workers are being asked to do more with less. They’re asking for certain safety measures be reinstated and staffing levels increased. There were 31 assaults against BART workers in 2012. Further, BART workers are concerned about an increased use of contractors in the system and would like the new contract to guarantee job protection.

Since a 60-day cooling off period ended the workers have cut their original wage demands in half, have offered to pick up pension costs, and are willing to pay more into health care than management had originally requested.

Dead Universes (part I): Reading Dead Universes

defiantA few years ago I had an itch to reread the Dark Dominion series from Defiant Comics. Not having my original issues readily available I went to ebay to see if I could get them at a reasonable price. Plugging “Defiant Comics” into the search led me to a vendor selling not only every issue of Dark Dominion, but nearly every single issue published by Defiant between 1993 and 1994 for $30. My pulse quickened as I realized I could own a nearly complete universe. He was only missing the two issues of Prudence & Caution and the Warriors of Plasm and Dark Dominion zero issues.

It was easy enough to track down Prudence & Caution, but the zero issues come as a series of trading cards that puzzle together when placed in order in a binder. There were vendors on ebay selling the fully collected trading cards complete in binders, but while searching I came across someone selling six boxes of Warriors of Plasm cards and four boxes of Dark Dominion cards. The price for all 10 unopened boxes was $20 which at the time seemed like a smart purchase.

When adjusted for inflation everything I purchased (not including the multiple boxes of trading cards) would have cost me more than $220 in 1994.  I only had to spend a little more than $50 so I could read the storyline of an entire shared universe. Having this revelation I realized if I could do it with Defiant I could very likely do it with the other mothballed universes from the 90s.

Some quick googling showed me I wasn’t alone. There’s a vibrant forum dedicated to Dead Universes at Valiantfans.com and a number of blogs documenting efforts to collect entire universes. The magnitude of collecting universes varies. Some collectors are only seeking to have a complete storyline. Others are trying to acquire all of the variant covers and ashcans. On the more extreme end are collectors collecting everything related to the publisher’s universe from action figures to promotional swag to television pilots.

Personally, I’m mostly interested in collecting for the purpose of reading the stories of these universes. Tragically, most have never been collected into trades and in many cases legal kerfuffles make the likelihood they ever will slim at best. That means mining ebay and long boxes at comic shops for the lowest priced floppies.

Of course, Dead Universes stretch all the way back to the Golden Age. For my own personal sanity I’ve limited my current reading to universes that were launched and started to fade between 1991 and 1995. This includes, but is not limited to, Defiant, Malibu’s Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World, and Valiant.

Related Links:

Dead Universes Part 2: Best Practices

Dead Universes Part 3: Choosing a Reading Order

Dead Universes Part 4: Defiant Comics

Signing: William Harms at Escapist October 19

39 Minutes

39 Minutes

Game and comic writer William Harms will be signing copies of his Top Cow book 39 Minutes at The Escapist on October 19. Harms, who’s written for everyone from Marvel to 2K, received IGN’s “Best Story of the 2009” award for the PS3 title InFamous.  In the world of comic writing he’s released a number of independent titles including Impaler and Bad Mojo and has lent his pen to established properties that include Captain America and Wolverine. In August, Top Cow released the hardcover trade paperback of Harms 2010 title 39 Minutes. The title was the company’s 2010 winner of their “Pilot Season” competition where fans determine which one-shot will be developed into a series. Harms will be signing at Escapist, 3090 Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, starting at 3 p.m. The description of 39 Minutes is below:

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Dead Universes (prologue): A time traveler finds holes in the multiverse

This was intended to be a one or two paragraph introduction to a series I’m working on regarding Dead Universes of the 90s. It’s possible I got a little carried away.

If a time traveler leaps from January 1995 to January 2012 and walked into a comic book shop she’d likely at first think very little had changed. DC and Marvel are still the top dogs while the logos of Dark Horse and Image continue to command a decent amount of shelf space.

The first thing she might notice is all of the numbering on DC’s titles are very low; shouldn’t Action Comics be nearing 900 around now? DC is still publishing the Vertigo imprint, but Animal Man and Swamp Thing seem to be absorbed back into the the primary DC continuity. Missing from the racks: Sandman, Doom Patrol, the Invisibles, and Shade, the Changing Man. She’d note that Hellblazer is still running, but John Constantine (and Shade) now appear to be part of something called Justice League Dark.

Continuing her observation she’d likely start to notice some holes where universes used to be. Dark Horse’s attempt at a shared superhero universe, Comics’ Greatest World, doesn’t have any representation on the shelf (Ghost would grace the cover of Dark Horse Presents... five months later). Defiant, which held so much promise when she left 1994, nowhere to be seen. Marvel had just purchased the Ultraverse characters right before she hit the time stream, but they’re missing from the shelves and don’t appear to have been absorbed into the Marvel Universe. Her beloved Valiant, which was doing so well when she left and had many titles were on a two-issue per month schedule, completely absent (X-O Manowar would reintroduce a new Valiant Universe in May).

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TR!CKSTER plans month long one-year anniversary celebration

tricksterTR!CKSTER, 2631 Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, is planning a month of events to celebrate their one-year anniversary. The comic boutique, which specializes in creator-owned publications, let loose a torrent of events on their twitter account last week. Here’s the breakdown:

October 11: Halloween show!
October 18: The Gallery Girls return to TR!CKSTER for a “Witch and the Cat” themed drawing event from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. More information at Facebook.
October 19: An opening reception at 5 p.m. for Alina Chau who’s promoting her new book Pickle, the Little Bird Who Doesn’t Tweet. Chau will be signing and showing off original work.
October 26: Monster bash celebrating the first year! Costumes encouraged!
October 27: Brian Schirmer is shooting for a Kickstarter hat trick for the final book in his Ultrasylvania series. As of this writing he’s only $300 short of his goal with more than 20 days left. He;ll be at TR!CKSTER signing copies of the first two volumes.

TR!CKSTER
2631 Ashby Ave
Berkeley, CA
(510) 665-8900
Tumblr: trickstertrickster
Twitter: @thetrickstore
Facebook: TheTRICKSTORE
Tue-Sun: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Dr. Comics and Mr. Games host 25 percent off sale

Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, 4014 Piedmont Ave in Oakland, is hosting a store wide sale today through Monday. Everything in the store (excluding new comics and mylars) will be 25 percent off through the weekend with select deals each day.

Friday 10/4: 40% off toys and statues
Saturday 10/5: 40% off Marvel graphic novels and Manga
Sunday 10/6: 40% off back issues
Monday 10/7: 40% off games

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