The Big Book of Surgery

The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery by Max Aguilera-Hellweg. Bulfinch Press, 1997. 9780821223772. 128pp.

Gene: This is a Wow, but it’s also potentially an Ick. What I love about sharing books with you is that I’m digging into books that I’ve kept for a long time and asking myself why I’ve kept them, and if they’re worth hanging on to. This book freaks me out.
Sarah: Ugh!
G: It’s photographs of surgery. I’ve looked at it so many times, but so quickly, that I didn’t realize before the other day that a lot of the pictures are of the same surgery. I never read the essay before (I did a little this time) because the photos take over my brain and then I have to stop looking at it. Continue reading “The Big Book of Surgery”

Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)

Strong is Beautiful

Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker. Workman, 2017. 9780761189138. 256pp.

strong-is-the-new-prettyGene: It’s the ultimate coffee table book. Photos of girls, a lot of them doing sports – it’s a celebration of how strong and tough girls are. It’s not quite against the idea of dolling yourself up, but it makes it clear you don’t have to to be strong and pretty.
Sarah: So a wider variety of pretty than you’d see in a lot of books.
G: Right. The photographer, Kate Parker, said she was shooting pictures of her daughters and their friends and the ones that resonated were the photos where they are 100% themselves. They’re celebrations of who the girls are. (Reading) “I wanted my girls to know that being themselves is beautiful, and that being beautiful is about being strong.” There’s a quote from each girl next to her picture, with her age and her first name. Continue reading “Strong is Beautiful”

Unsolved Mysteries

The Voynich Manuscript. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in association with Yale University Press, 2016. 9780300217230.

voynich-manuscriptAn unassuming little book, the original Voynich Manuscript is hand-written on vellum with no intricate binding or decoration, and there is no clear history of its authorship or ownership. (It pops up from time to time in historical records, then disappears.) The text is written in an unknown language (possibly a code) using an unknown alphabet. The botanical illustrations found on most pages are of plants that don’t exist. The celestial charts at its center are indecipherable. No one has been able to understand the text, and there is only speculation as to the book’s purpose. It is the world’s most mysterious book.

This is a page by page reproduction of the original with lots of space in the margins for you to scribble your theories. Plus there are essays on what the book might be and the results of various scientific tests done on it. It’s your own copy of a real mystery. I was pretty excited to finally get to see it after hearing about it for years, but then I was somehow disappointed that to me (not an expert on languages, codes, alchemy, or any esoteric arts) it’s pretty much still a mystery. I guess I was hoping that I would somehow be able to divine it’s true meaning.

I (Heart) Sequential Art

Sequential Drawings by Richard McGuire. Pantheon Books, 2016.  9781101871591.

sequential-drawingsSpot illustrations from the pages of The New Yorker by the author of the graphic novel Here. Some are groups of related objects, others sequential. Luc Sante, in his introduction, points out that “McGuire has a special gift for endowing inanimate objects with personalities. He accomplishes this with the most minimal means.” In “Three Friends” a parking meter on a bent post looks like Munch’s The Scream. “Rock, Paper, Scissors” stresses violence as well as cooperation. (The entire sequence can be seen at the top of this GQ review.) “Flamingo Umbrella” starts with irritation but ends with pure delight. “Pigeon” is my favorite sequence — the birds’ poses perfectly express their ridiculousness.

The beautifully minimalist illustrations seem designed to remind me both that anything can be represented via a few simple lines and that creating such pleasing drawings requires a level of skill few possess.

And, you know, if you know a comics geek like me, there could be no better Valentine’s Day gift than this.

Wow, Speaking American

Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide by Josh Katz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 9780544703391.

speakingamericanSarah: This guy who was in charge of making infographics for the New York Times, with the help of a massive four-volume reference work on American regional English, made online  tools to show what people call things in different parts of the US, and other regional variations in language. It was one of the most popular interactive features the New York Times ever published.
Gene: So these images were all on its website?
Sarah: Yeah. They gathered information, then used those to make graphics that look like heat-maps that show ways people say things where. The more common the word or phrase, the darker the color. Continue reading “Wow, Speaking American”


Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino. Dynamite Entertainment, 2016. 9781524101039. 352 pp.

art-of-atariGene: My birthday was last month, and I’m very nostalgic for old video games again. So I built myself a MAME emulator in a Raspberry Pi computer so that I can carry it around easily. I’m a little embarrassed, but not enough to not tell you about it apparently. But this book fits in perfectly with that —

Sarah: Ahhh!

G: I don’t normally like video game art books, but this is Art of Atari, and it focuses on the art of the Atari 2600. [There are other Atari systems’ / games’ art in there, too.] I never though the box art was done by hand.

S: Yeah!

G: Atari had a lot of in-house artists. The book has the history of the company, a lot about industrial design, an introduction by Ernie Cline (who wrote Ready Player One), and a lot of Atari’s advertising art that I remember from comic books.

S: And this is back when the ad art was three billion times nicer than anything you would ever see on a video game screen.

breakout-boxG: Right! Here’s one for Breakout. It’s the game with the little bar across the bottom that would hit the ball up to the top and knock out a square, like a tooth, and you had to use it to destroy the rows of blocks on top.

S: One person destructo Pong. My mother played that for hours on the Commodore 64.

G: That is totally what they should have called it. That game’s art is my favorite, bar none. They were trying to figure out how to pitch it. My least favorite art is from licensed games. There was a Pigs in Space video game. The box has a photo on it from the show and it just looks sad.
Continue reading “ARTari”