Book of the week: Jack Gregson and the Forgotten Portal (Peter Wilson)

In an effort to draw attention to quality self-published literature and in agreement with BlueInk Review, NSR highlights reviews published on BIR’s site each week, including a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. This week’s pick:

Jack Gregson and The Forgotten Portal

Peter Wilson lives in Sydney, Australia. When he’s not writing (which is most of the time unfortunately) he works in the digital world, creating content for games, music and movie companies.

BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. It offers serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Reviews are penned largely by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine.

This week in Literature and Arts

Remembering Peter Benchley, who died from pulmonary fibrosis (scarred lungs), February 11, 2006 at age 65. I wrote him fan letters when I was young. He always wrote back. Good guy.

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February 12, 1931: Tod Browning’s Dracula premieres at the ROXY Theater in Manhattan before opening nationwide on Valentine’s Day. The film establishes Universal as Hollywood’s horror studio and makes a bonafide star of newcomer Bela Lugosi.

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February 13, 2000: The last original Peanuts strip is published hours after creator Charles Schulz succumbs to colon cancer at 77. Schulz’s contract with United Features prevented other artists from continuing Peanuts after his passing. Recycled strips run in more than 2000 daily newspapers.

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February 14, 1930: Knopf publishes The Maltese Falcon in revised novel form, catapulting hard-boiled pulp fiction to literature. One of the great American novels and the ultimate Valentine to PI mystery lovers.

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Happy 199th birthday to Susan B. Anthony, born February 15, 1820 in Adams, Mass., but raised primarily in New York.

B is for badass!

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February 17, 1939: RKO releases Gunga Din. Howard Hawks, reportedly, was assigned to direct the film but was fired after Bringing Up Baby flopped (hard to believe now) and George Stevens got the job. Also, Cary Grant originally was assigned the role of Ballantine, the romantic interest, while Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was cast as the adventure-seeking Cutter, a role greatly resembling those played by his dad. Grant wanted to infuse more comedy in his career, so Stevens flipped the two actors’ parts. Nonetheless, Fairbanks said that of the many films he did, Gunga Din was the masterpiece. Truly.

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February 17, 1975: John Lennon bids the public eye adieu with the release of Rock ‘n’ Roll, an album of 50s cover songs that lured him into music as a teen. The album’s jacket sports a photo of 20-something greaser Lennon leaning in the doorway of Jagerpassage 1, Wohlwillstrasse 22 in Hamburg, Germany.

The picture was shot in April 1961 by 21-year-old Jurgen Vollmer when The Beatles were playing at the Top Ten Club. The ghostly figures on the sidewalk were Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe, who was on the verge of leaving the band to pursue his art studies. He would be dead within weeks from a brain hemorrhage.

Before running a roll of monochrome 120 through his tripoded Rolli, Vollmer had Paul, George, and Stu practice walking to find a speed that left their pointed boots sharp and their bodies blurry (although successful, the pic, ironically, was cropped for the cover).

Rock ‘n’ Roll was Lennon’s last album release for five years.

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Michael Rogers (mermsr@optimum.net) is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He is also former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy 100th birthday to Tim Holt, born Charles John Holt in Beverly Hills, CA, February 5, 1919. His dad was actor Jack Holt, so Tim was a duck to water when it came to films. Despite a flurry of solid roles in popular A films made by top directors (John Ford, Orson Welles), Holt, ultimately, was relegated to B Westerns, and he eventually dropped out of Hollywood, moving to Oklahoma where he managed a theater and presented rodeos, as well as working at a radio station and making personal appearances.

I’ve enjoyed Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and, especially, My Darling Clementine. Alas, Tim died of bone cancer when he was only 54.

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February 5, 1957: American rock ‘n’ roll comes to the UK and beyond as Bill Haley and the Comets land in Southampton to launch their first overseas tour.

Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend, Billy J. Kramer, and other British school kids, who in a few years would dominate pop music, all credit attending Haley’s shows as a defining moment in their decisions to pursue music careers.

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Remembering comics artist god Jack “King” Kirby, who died of heart failure February 6, 1984. Gone 35 years but the work lives on now more than ever with many of the characters he created dominating the big screen.

At the 2008 New York Comic Con Stan Lee said Kirby, “was a born storyteller…he never ran out of ideas, and I stole as many of them as I could.”

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Happy birthday to literary superstar and social avenger Charles Dickens, born February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England.

One of you hold him while I fetch a scissors and trim that muskrat on his chin!

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Happy 87th birthday to maestro John Williams, born February 8, 1932 in Floral Park, Queens. It is impossible to imagine JAWS, Raiders, and, especially, Star Wars without Williams’s scores. His music is practically a character in these films. It’s hard to pick a favorite.

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February 8, 1958: The Quarry Men play an evening show at Wilson Hall in Garston. After their set, Paul McCartney introduces his school friend George Harrison, 14, to band leader John Lennon. Harrison later would audition while they all were riding together on the open top level of a double-decker bus. Unlike many skiffle-band kids who simply made noise on their chosen instruments, George could play actual chords!

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Fast forward only six years later to February 9, 1964 when two days after landing in America and playing a few gigs around the country, The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. The music world tilts on its axis. Well done, Ed.

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Happy 75th birthday to poet and Pulitzer-winning novelist Alice Walker, born February 9, 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia.

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Birthday remembrances of the great Frank Frazetta, born February 9, 1928 in Brooklyn. Remarkably, after a stroke crippled his right arm he taught himself to work left-handed—and the stuff was good! Who the hell does that?

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Happy birthday to character actor extraordinaire Alan Hale, born—hold onto your hats—Rufus Edward Mackahan, February 10, 1892 in Washington, D.C. Before Hollywood, Hale trained and flopped as an opera singer and became in inventor, experimenting with everything from potato chips to theater seats.

His film career began in 1911, and he got a break playing Little John in Doug Fairbanks’s Robin Hood, a role he would play twice more. Hale became Warner Bros go-to guy; he appeared in comedies, Westerns, war films, and straight dramas in roles great and small alongside just about every A-lister including Laurel & Hardy, Cagney, Cary Grant, and, especially, Errol Flynn (they made 13 films together).

If ever an actor stole a scene it’s Hale in It Happened One Night, singing to Gable and Colbert, who both look like they’re going to lose it. Always fun seeing him on screen.

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Michael Rogers (mermsr@optimum.net) is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He is also former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.

Proudly presenting NSR’s new book: No Shelf Required 3: New New Era for E-Books and Digital Content

NSR is pleased to announce the publication (in Spring of 2019) of a new book in a series of books published in partnership with ALA: No Shelf Required 3: The New Era for E-Books and Digital Content. Thank you to the folks at ALA Editions for publishing this book and for their continued support of NSR’s mission.—MR


Many claim that the presence and importance of e-books have reached a saturation point, but the truth is that experimentation with new models, as well as refinement of existing ones, continues apace. Delving into the latest developments among the varied players in the e-book marketplace, including publishers, libraries, and vendors, the latest volume in the best-selling No Shelf Required series is written from a strong international perspective. Positive, uplifting, instructive, and goal-oriented, this volume’s coverage includes:

  • the DPLA national e-book platform
  • ReadersFirst, a movement to improve e-book access from libraries
  • the AudiobookSYNC project, a free summer audiobook program for teens
  • using e-books to teach poetry and publishing processes
  • the Multnomah County Library Library Writers project
  • e-books and the Internet Archive
  • NSR’s One Country, One Library initiative
  • Worldreader and other international charitable projects promoting global literacy

Public libraries looking into expanding their programming; academic libraries interested in library publishing, digital scholarship, and scholarly communication; and technical services staff will all find creative new ideas inside for promoting literacy and spreading knowledge.


About the editors:

Mirela Roncevic

Mirela Roncevic has served as a consultant for a range of publishers and libraries and partnered with companies creating new digital opportunities for publishers, authors, readers, educators, and librarians. She has also contributed articles, reports, book reviews, and short stories to numerous magazines and has served as managing editor of several book series and journals. Director of No Shelf Required, an award-winning portal on e-books and digital content, she is also the founder of the One Country, One Library project, which supports the creation of national libraries that provide free access to books and other content to all people inside a country’s borders for the purpose of bridging digital divides, equalizing access to education, enabling reading, and spreading literacy.

Peyton Stafford

Peyton Stafford writes the Indies in the Library™ column for No Shelf Required. With many years of experience in publishing for libraries, he has worked in sales, marketing, editorial and executive positions with publishers and distributors that provide print and digital information resources to libraries of all kinds. He also provides consulting services to publishers and authors. His previous positions include Vice President Corporate, Government, and Publisher Relations, Total Boox; Associate Director Learning Solutions, Rosen Publishing Group; Director of Global Library and Institutional Services, ReadHowYouWant; and Vice President Library Services, Userful Corporation.

This week in Literature and Arts

Birthday greetings to Elijah Wood, born January 28, 1981 in Cedar Rapids, IA. He’ll forever be Frodo from the hours and hours and hours and hours and even more hours of big-screen Tolkien, but my favorite is his turn as the silent killer-cannibal Kevin (the anti-Frodo) in Frank Miller/Robbie Rodriguez’s Sin City. Without speaking a word he’s scary as hell. Well done, Elijah. Happy birthday, man.

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February 1, 1894: John Ford is born John Martin Feeney in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

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Happy birthday to the “King” of Hollywood, William Clark Gable, born February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, OH. Gable joined the army air corps during WWII (after wife Carole Lumbard’s death), spending most of his service in England with a documentary film crew composed of other Hollywood personnel, but he did fly several missions as a gunner. His craft was shot up over Germany with a crew-member killed and Gable shot through his boot. Gable was Hitler’s favorite American actor and der fuehrer offered a reward for anyone who could capture him and bring him to Berlin.

Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy birthday to Joseph Wambaugh, born January 22, 1937 in Pennsylvania ( I always thought he was an LA guy). I started reading him in my teens and still enjoy his books. His cop stuff is worth a shot if you’ve never tried them.

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Birthday greetings to the late John Hurt, born January 22, 1940 in Chesterfield, England. All kinds of roles in all kinds of films—from A Man for All Seasons, The Naked Civil Servant, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Alien, Midnight Express, and Wild Bill through Harry Potter… and Hellboy, but my favorite is his remarkable performance as Joe Merrick in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Solid guy. Great face.

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January 23, 1943: Critic, playwright, and social commentator Alexander Woollcott suffers a heart attack on the air during a radio broadcast of The People’s Platform on CBS. He died hours later at Roosevelt Hospital. He was 56.

Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

January 14, 1957: Bogart dies of throat cancer at 57. The Big C had been wearing him away for months. When passing he weighed only 80 pounds.

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Happy birthday to writer, artist, and political activist, John Dos Passos, born January 15, 1895. I’ve got to read more of this guy.

Herf a perfecto for Dos today!

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Birthday greetings as well to Yukio Mishima, born January 15, 1925 in Tokyo. Doesn’t he look like a happy soul! A genuine nut (he’d make a dandy James Bond villain). Good writer though. I’ve enjoyed several of his books.

Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy birthday to Zora Neale Hurston, born January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, AL. When Zora was a toddler, her family moved to the all-black town of Eatonville, FL, which became the setting of much of her fiction. If you’ve never read Their Eyes Were Watching God, you’ve truly missed something.



Happy birthday to Elvis, born in a two-room house built by his father and grandfather in Tupelo, Mississippi, January 8, 1935. His twin brother Jessie was stillborn. His hair also was blonde. He died it black to look more badass. Worked.

Hail to The King, baby!

Happy birthday to Soupy Sales, born Milton Supman in Franklinton, NC, January 8, 1926.

Soupy created the White Fang character while serving in the navy during WWII. The legend is that he’d use the PA system aboard the USS Randall to perform short comedy routines between himself and Fang.

Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

Birthday greetings to J.R.R. Tolkien, born January 3, 1892 in South Africa.


January 3, 1841: Herman Melville, 21, departs on his first whaling voyage aboard the New Bedford whaler, Acushnet.

By the time the ship reached Polynesia, Melville and others of the crew understood that whaling was a disgusting, back-breaking job and staged a mutiny, fleeing to the jungle and into the arms of headhunters (what’s Plan B, boys!). The mutineers soon enough were captured and jailed.

He recorded it all in his first novel…


January 4, 1965: Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot dies at 76. He was in a coma and said nothing. Not with a bang but a whimper.


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

Hints at New Year’s Listening

photo of recording studio equipment

During December, professional narrators shared on Twitter the last sentence each read for forthcoming audiobooks. AudioFile Magazine collected the nearly five dozen last lines posted during the run-up to Christmas. But more narrators were still at work—right through the very last days of 2018. Narrators being every bit as important to reading by ear as authors, and last sentences of one year offering prescient (or at least glib) tips for welcoming the next year, what follows is a kind of mini blog tour: all the last lines tweeted out from narrator studios where mics continued to be switched on through the last week of 2018.

You can read the story we cobbled together of the early-arriving last lines here. And then what follows below here is part 2 of#lastsentenceof2018’s string of pearls, reworked into the semblance of meta-fiction of its own. Each last sentence carries a footnote so you can read the whole piece as one and still quickly access the narrator, title and author of the forthcoming audiobook that it completes.

Let’s call it “The Last Sunset . . .”[1]

Sean fell quiet, leaving an awkwardness in the small space.[2] Then, with an almost playful air, he ran in the direction of the rhino.[3] “What the hell is going on?” said Chase out loud.[4] More than you can imagine.[5]Or something like that.[6]

“It means…we are all in very serious trouble.”[7] We will either save or destroy one another.[8] And I’m not that good of a liar.[9] I’ll break his soul right before I break this world.[10] It’s just as simple as that.[11] Welcome to the trail.[12]

What now?[13] Continue reading Hints at New Year’s Listening

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy birthday to lovely, lovely Ludwig Van, born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany to a family of musicians and singers. Music in his bones.


Birthday greetings to Jane Austen born December 16, 1775 in Hampshire, England. She looks like a real party girl, eh!


Happy birthday to Keith Richards, born December 18, 1943 in Kent, England. How the hell did this guy live to 75? He’s more weathered than the sphinx!

Keep rolling, Keith!


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy birthday to Margaret Hamilton, born December 9, 1902 in Columbus, Ohio. She taught kindergarten before acting full time and remained active in education throughout her life. Imagine kids trading war stories, “You think your teacher was mean, mine was the Wicked Witch of the West!”

One of the screen’s greatest villains.


December 9, 1962: Columbia Pictures releases David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Hellooo Peter O’Toole!


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

Year’s end collection of pro-listening resources

The New York Times, typically not a bastion of audiobook understanding, yesterday published a cogent opinion piece by cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham. As an academic researcher, Willingham’s investigations into literacy, listening, and critical thinking reach back decades. That the Times has given him a platform bodes well for those of us ever in need of well documented research about the effective properties and benefits of reading by ear.

In it’s end of the year sprucing, the Audio Publishers Association is also optimizing access to its resources about reading by ear on its educational site, Sound Learning. EBSCO, too, has entered the discussion of verifying how listening and literacy augment each other.

While many literacy-promotion organizations continue to trade on measuring literacy according to decoding abilities that, as Willingham points out, are typically achieved in childhood, the sources above recognize the lifelong literacy attributes of critical thinking, prosody’s importance to determining meaning, and authentic experiences with voices other than one’s own internal one. With a new year on the horizon, it’s time to gather the best and brightest information about reading by ear and help parents, teachers, and other adults to understand how literacy is greater than the sum of print decoding.

This week in Literature and Arts

December 30, 1968: NBC airs Elvis’s “Comeback Special.” Since his 1960 discharge from the army, Elvis concentrated on making films accompanied by singles. The quality of both diminished, and he grew bored and wanted to get back on stage. This TV special initially was designed as a Christmas variety show (even though it was filmed the previous June), but that concept was altered to emphasize Elvis’s singing over performing the same silly schtick he’d done in too many bad films with curvy costars (he was married and had a daughter now).

The show featured Elvis alone debuting several songs including “If I can Dream,” which became a significant hit, along with an informal segment with Elvis—wearing a tight black-leather outfit with a collar up to here—accompanied by his longtime backup players Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana on a slightly raised platform surrounded by a live audience. They performed and then Elvis talked to the people about the song, where he was in life when recording it, etc.

Ratings were through the roof, and Elvis concerts sold out across the globe.

Hail to The King, baby!


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

AudioFile Magazine’s Best of the Year Nonfiction Audiobooks

With drifts of “best of the year” lists appearing each winter, choosing which list is most helpful for reviewing any specific format almost demands a “best of the year” list in itself. Happily, Library Journal’s Book Pulse offers something like that, adding major publications’ lists with links as each is published. AudioFile Magazine‘s annual Best of the Year, which appears on this list of lists, indeed offers enough abundance to engage collection developers and advisory guides without overwhelming an individual listening maven who wants to see what they’ve missed hearing this year and should. In fact, this year’s list is a bit slimmed down–not for lack of publishing (which continues to grow) or quality (which also increases), but simply to make the list as manageable and insightful as possible for its audience.

In the category of Nonfiction and Culture, half a dozen audiobooks snagged the designation of Best of the Year. Here’s the thing: these six audiobooks all feature excellent writing, savvy and professional narration, and explore topics of lasting interest. In short, this is a list for the ages rather than a popularity roster.

Listen to narrator Ron Butler talk about his perspective of the work he reads and which appears on this list. This short video goes far to demonstrate how professional narrators bring understanding of complex texts and theories to their work in order to conduct authors’ thoughts and phrasings to listeners’ ears.

What else is on this year’s Nonfiction list of Best Audiobooks from AudioFile? Put on your headphones and listen up:

BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY BURN AGAIN, by Ben Fountain and read by
Ron Butler (HarperAudio)

THE DEATH OF TRUTH by Michiko Kakutani and read by Tavia Gilbert (Random House Audio)

THE HAPPINESS CURVE by Jonathan Rauch and read by Robert Fass (Macmillan Audio)

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara and read by Gabra Zackman (HarperAudio)

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE by Ijeoma Oluo and read by Bahni Turpin (Blackstone Audio)

WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? by Marilynne Robinson and read by Carrington MacDuffie (Blackstone Audio)

 

This week in Literature and Arts

November 27, 1953: In room 401 of the now defunct Sheraton Hotel on Boston’s Bay State Road, Eugene O’Neill, ailing, Auschwitz thin,  and lying silent in bed for days, summons a last shred of strength to push himself up to a near sitting position and exclaim hoarsely, “I knew it! Born in a hotel room and goddamnit died in one!”

He never said another word. At 65, America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright had gotten the thing he’d always longed for.


November 27, 1967: The Beatles push the psychedelic edge with the release of Magical Mystery Tour. The accompanying film is considered the forerunner to the music video.

I’m guessing  a copious amount of hard drugs was involved in much of this. Goo goo g’joob, yo!


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

Smashwords: Improved discovery with a reinvented website and a half-million indie titles

Since its founding over ten years ago, Smashwords has been the premier service for indie authors who want to create ebooks from their Word files and feed their ebooks into a global network of retail web stores, including Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Through these and other stores, the books go on sale throughout the world. The books also go to library suppliers, including Baker & Taylor, Bibliotheca CloudLibrary, and OverDrive. However, the Smashwords website has never been pretty to look at. Now, with its recent update, the website is not only nicer to look at but easier to use as a book discovery tool.


I have long been a fan of Mark Coker (founder and CEO of Smashwords) and his thoughts on the culture of authorship. As he says, “the writing community has always been subservient. With the rise of the indie revolution, authors can throw off the yoke of the big publishers and begin to control their own destiny.”

He also praises libraries for their tradition of promoting learning: “Libraries have traditionally promoted a culture of learning and a culture of books. Now they have the opportunity to promote a culture of authorship” (see my earlier article for more about Smashwords and how it has solved many problems with ebooks and libraries for authors).

However, the Smashwords website has never been my favorite. It was dominated by the “firehose,” meaning an ever-changing display of book covers with each cover added to the home page as the book was added to Smashwords, and then pushed off the page by the books that followed it. In this article, we will look at the new website and detail its improvements, and consider the significance of Smashwords surpassing 500,000 titles. We will also look at how the new website can help collection development librarians discover hot indie titles that they will want for their libraries. Continue reading Smashwords: Improved discovery with a reinvented website and a half-million indie titles

Year-end Web Comics Best Lists?

to-do-list-imageDecember brings out the publishing world’s “best of the year” lists in abundance. Some lists reflect sales ranking across the past 12 months; others seem to be devised by a tiny group of on staff critics who tell us the results—the list—without revealing how they reached it—the criteria; others are the work of committee members who come to consensus. Yet, every Best of the Year list can prove helpful: titles that were published while the list user was preoccupied elsewhere in life, titles the list reader loved and didn’t realize others could join their fan club for it, titles the list reader gives new interest to pursuing since it’s keeping company on the list with others they already deem great choices.

Among the delights of web comics is their habitation of a sphere where publishing calendars and dollars don’t impinge on the reading audience. Instead, there’s a pretty close direct connection between the creator and the audience and the audience doesn’t “consume”; they might provide funding for future stability of the artist (Kickstarter, for example) but there is no requirement in the webcomics world to pay-as-you-read (or borrow-to-read) here.

So are there end of the year best lists in this outsider-publishing ecosystem? Comicon.com brings out such a list at the real tail end of the year (Last year it was three days before 2018 arrived) and theirs is worth checking out for its curation, inclusiveness, and sharing of panels that reveal both artistic styles and narrative interests for each title on the list. The source of the list has been around comics since long before there was a web on which to make comics,  so they have a depth of historical awareness behind them as well as aesthetic insight. Put it on your calendar or bookmark the site now so you have a nice little list before the new year.

Yes, a variety of awarding bodies give good recognition to webcomics of note among the accolades handed out in the comics world, the sci fi and fantasy worlds, the kidlitosphere, etc. Every mention is useful. An end of the year list, focused specifically on the format, however, provides readers with a broader understanding of what all the format can do and what can be done with it. It also serves to reflect the year itself as themes arise and fall away, rare shared and diverge from previous years.

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy birthday to character actor Robert Armstrong, born in Saginaw, Michigan, November 20, 1890. Armstrong enjoyed a prolific career, appearing in more than 120 films and later TV but, of course, is immortalized as King Kong‘s Carl Denham.

He had a singular talent for taking bad dialog and making it work. As much as I love Kong, some of the film’s lines are beyond silly: “I’ve never seen it fail, some big hardboiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy.” A lot of guys would trip all over themselves saying that, but Armstrong slides it out like he says it every day.

He’s in a few films with Cagney. If you like Kong, try Armstrong in G Men sometime. Good stuff.


November 21, 1931: Universal Studios releases Frankenstein. After appearing in roughly 75 films, Boris Karloff becomes an “overnight” success in a career-defining role. Following the triumph of February’s release of Dracula, the film’s success firmly establishes Universal as Hollywood’s horror studio.

Karloff gets all the props, but Colin Clive’s performance is equally stellar and important to the film’s status. Dwight Frye, too.


Continue reading This week in Literature and Arts

This week in Literature and Arts

Happy 75th birthday to actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, born in NYC November 12, 1943. Back when I was working on 17th St. in Manhattan I used to see him regularly—he lived up the block. Sometimes I’d say “Hey, Wallace, how’s it going?” to hear that weird, lispy voice as he always responded.

He’s best known for the poison cups schtick in The Princess Bride and as the voice of Rex, Toy Story‘s scared-of-everything dinosaur, but another good one is his turn as Father Abruzzi in 1985’s Heaven Help Us with Donald Sutherland and John Heard. If you attended Catholic high school it’s a fun film.


November 13, 1968: The Beatles’ trippy animated film, Yellow Submarine debuts in U.S. theaters. It had premiered in London the previous July.


Birthday wishes to novelist, poet, traveler, and musician Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 13, 1850. In addition to his literary endeavors, Stevenson was an accomplished musician, playing numerous instruments and composing more than 100 scores. Too brief a life; he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 44 while living in Samoa.

If it’s been years since you read Stevenson, take a break from the cookie-cutter mysteries and bestseller-list crap and grab Kidnapped or Treasure Island. Read them aloud to your kids; you’ll have as much fun as they do.


November 14, 1851: After debuting in Britain several months earlier, Moby Dick is published in America. Critics mostly pan the book. Sales are poor. The novel’s financial failure in large part lead to Melville’s demise as an author, forcing him to find employment as an inspector of ship cargoes at South Street and other locales around New York harbor.

Since the novel’s 1920s renaissance, oceans of ink have been spilled on it’s true meaning, blah, blah, blah, and while the symbolism is there, books like it and Ulysses have been so over-dissected that their intrinsic beauty becomes a casualty. Instead of being read with great joy, people become afraid and avoid them. Silly. Moby Dick is beautiful. Read it.


Birthday remembrances of actor Brian Keith, born November 14, 1921 in Bayonne, NJ. Huge career in television, but I preferred his film work. He’s fine in Nevada Smith, but my favorite is his turn as Teddy Roosevelt in John Milius’s The Wind and the Lion.

Later in life, alas Brian fell into depression stemming from his daughter’s suicide as well as suffering from lung cancer and emphysema resulting in him taking his own life  at 75.


November 15, 1956: Elvis makes his film debut in director Robert Webb’s romantic Civil War crime drama, Love Me Tender with Richard Egan and Debra Paget. Elvis harbored aspirations of becoming a serious actor à la Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and his early films were dramas directed by the likes of Michael Curtiz and Don Siegel.

Presley’s greedy manager Col. Tom Parker reportedly nixed his client appearing in serious fare with big stars who would overshadow him, e.g., Elvis was a contender for the role of “Colorado” in Howard Hawks’s John Wayne/Dean Martin Western, Rio Bravo but Parker nixed it (Elvis clone Ricky Nelson snagged it).

Another serious factor dampened Presley’s screen ambitions: he stunk!

Hail to the King, baby!


Happy birthday to Burgess Meredith, born November 16, 1907 in Cleveland, OH. Prior to acting, he was a reporter for the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corp in World War II.  Most probably remember him as Mickey in the Rocky films, but my favorite is his work in The Twilight Zone.


November 16, 2001: Harry Potter jumps off the page and onto the screen. The only one of these films I’ve seen all the way through. Hard to believe it’s been 17 years (and mountains of moolah ago!).


Happy birthday to New York’s own Martin Scorsese, born November 17, 1942 in Queens. His parents relocated to Manhattan’s Little Italy when Marty was a kid. I think everybody has a favorite Scorsese movie or two—or ten!


November 17, 1919: Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company at 12 Rue de l’Odéon in Paris. The combination bookstore and lending library was frequented by James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Andre Gide, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and other artistic Olympians.

Hemingway said that no one was ever nicer to him than Sylvia. When he accompanied US troops liberating Paris, he went first to her apartment to check if she was safe. Then he went to the Ritz bar and got shitfaced.


Michael Rogers (mermsr@optimum.net) is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He is also former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.

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