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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Obituaries, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 274
26. RIP: Oderus Urungus


The Gwar frontman is dead at age 50. Gwar had a big comics crossover of inspiration and I know they played Comic-Con several times.

Photo via Diabolique Magazine

3 Comments on RIP: Oderus Urungus, last added: 3/24/2014
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27. Lucius Shepard: Art Out of Fantasy and Pain

photo by Ellen Datlow, 21 Nov 2007
I hate that this sentence must now be in the past tense: Lucius Shepard was one of the great American writers.

It's hard to find words, even though I've had 24 hours to search.

In a review of The Dragon Griaule, I invoked Conrad and melodrama, and quoted Eric Bentley on both. Here's part of that quote again, because it gets at exactly what Lucius Shepard's stories mean to me, and why they mean so much:
Only under the influence of a narrow and philistine Naturalism can we ask why an artist shows life at a remove and in some established genre. The transposition of an inner struggle to a duel between persons does not even need a convention to carry it: such changes are made nightly by everyone in his dreams. If one can make of one's tussels with suicidal wishes a drama of love and honor, one has given to private and chaotic material a public and recognizable form. One has made art out of fantasy and pain.
And now a sentence from the introduction to the final collection of stories published during Lucius Shepard's lifetime, Five Autobiographies and a Fiction, after a description of a harrowing childhood and adolescence:
For the next twenty years I traveled aimlessly, engaged in bar fights, street fights, insulated myself from the possibility of self-examination with drugs, played in a number of rock bands, married twice without giving the matter much thought, dabbled in low-level criminality, drug-dealing, burglary, etc., and escewed anything that smacked remotely of the cerebral.
Luckily, he found his way out of at least some of that darkness, those difficult decades. He attended the Clarion writers' workshop and a few years later his stories began to appear in magazines and anthologies, and his first novel, Green Eyes, was published as part of the resurrected Ace Specials line that also brought out Neuromancer and Kim Stanley Robinson's first novel, The Wild Shore, among others.

I could try to be objective here and talk about the specific qualities of Lucius Shepard's writing that set him apart from most of his peers for me — the long, languorous sentences, of course; the precision of the imagery; the complexity of form; the rich social world implied from the texts; the fascination with the perils of machismo; the great variety of types of stories unified not by genre but by vision and even, to use a rather antiquated term, moral conviction; the sheer imaginative force the best of the work displays.

Maybe another time. It feels too cold and academic. Too un-Lucius. He hated analysis that got away from the practical. His entertainingly curmudgeonly movie reviews were always based in a very personal voice, producing the sense of somebody talking to you from his own experience, hoping maybe that his experience could connect with, enlighten, enliven, enrage your own. I'm not (yet) interested in being entertainingly curmudgeonly, but I can't speak of Lucius Shepard right now without speaking about what, and how, his work meant to me.

(A momentary, weird personal aside: The indefatigable researchers at the Science Fiction Encylopedia are confident that Lucius Shepard was born in 1943, not 1947 as he often claimed. If so, that means he was one day younger than my father.)

I started reading Lucius's stories when I started reading science fiction. My mother's boss subscribed to Asimov's and loaned me a few issues. That first batch included the April 1986 issue. The cover story was "R&R".

cover illustration by J.K. Potter
I don't think I read all of "R&R" then — I was too young, it was too dense — but I gave it a good shot. I was, after all, just getting over my infatuation with G.I. Joe and Rambo, and so J.K. Potter's cover and interior illustrations for the story grabbed my interest immediately. (That cover is seared into my brain.) I did start reading Shepard pretty soon, though, because once I was a confirmed sci-fi nerd, my parents let me join the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the first books I got was Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction: 3rd Annual Collection, which included two Lucius Shepard stories, "The Jaguar Hunter" (the first story in the book) and "A Spanish Lesson". I wanted to know what "good" science fiction was, and the presence of two stories meant this was a major writer, so I studied those stories intensively. I don't remember what I made of them. I think I thought they were slow, but there was something alluring in them, something that wouldn't let go of me (and that never let go of me).

A few years later, I got a paperback copy of The Jaguar Hunter, which collected most of the best of those early stories (the paperback omitted "R&R", which had been incorporated into Life During Wartime, a book I picked up, but to this day have never completely read because some genius at Bantam Spectra decided the whole nearly-500-page book ought to be in san serif font. It's ghastly!). By that time I was in my mid-teens, had become a better reader, and followed Shepard's career closely. "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" and "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter" were particular favorites from the early years, but many of the novellas of the 1990s also wowed me and wooed me, bringing me back to science fiction magazines even when I had claimed to move on to better things. The stories were vivid and gnarled, unpredictable, sometimes vexing in their ambiguities, their complex dance with the conventions of narrative form. They clung and haunted. "Skull City", "Barnacle Bill the Spacer", "Beast of the Heartland", "Radiant Green Star" — I still have the magazines and still remember where I was sitting when I read each story.

It was in the new century, though, that Lucius Shepard got really, really good. His work deepened, darkened, thickened. In addition to The Dragon Griaule and Five Autobiographies and a Fiction, read Viator. Read A Handbook for American Prayer. Read Floater. Read Eternity and Other Stories, which includes "Only Partly Here", still one of the most powerful stories I've ever read about 9/11. (If you need a primer, Subterranean Press is offering the e-book of The Best of Lucius Shepard for $2.99 at the moment.)

I got to know Lucius a little bit in his last years, mostly via Facebook, oddly enough — it proved to be a pretty good forum for him. I first met him in 2007 when we were the two readers at the KGB Fantastic Fiction series for that November. It felt bizarre to be reading on the same bill as Lucius. I think I was there because there wasn't really anybody else around who was willing to do a reading a couple days before Thanksgiving. Or something. I don't know. I certainly didn't deserve to be on a bill with Lucius Shepard! (Even I just wanted me to hurry up and finish my reading so Lucius could begin!) I was terribly intimidated and terrified of him, even though he was gracious and friendly. But he was Lucius Shepard — one of the greats! I wish I'd had more guts that night, wish I'd chatted with him more, wish I'd gotten him to sign a book. But I was too nervous. We talked a bit at dinner afterward, and then later on we corresponded some. Just as I felt like I was getting to know him, he began to have his most serious health problems, including a stroke. I had plenty of faith that he'd pull out of it, that he'd write again. He had to. How could the world not have the force of his words?

I keep thinking back to a moment of childhood: visiting the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston in the late '80s and paging through the Arkham House hardcover of The Jaguar Hunter, which I couldn't afford to buy. $21.95 was a fortune to me then. I looked at the book and looked at it and looked at it. But that's not why I keep thinking about it. What I keep thinking about is this: A year or two ago, I got a pristine copy of that book for pennies. A price I could have afforded even when I was a kid. A first edition, first printing of a brilliant book that ought to be a collector's item selling for a hundred times what I paid for it. I was happy to get a gift for my inner child, but also deeply angry that I could afford it — that it's not as valuable and scarce as it deserves to be just reminds me of how little valued Lucius's work is in comparison to its quality.

He should have been a literary star. He should have been recognized as one of the great writers of his generation. Because he was. Sure, sometimes his need for money caused him to sell work that wasn't entirely great, but he should be judged by his best, which is as good as the work of nearly any of his contemporaries (not just in the science fiction field; his work is richer, more powerful, more vivid, more weird, and more meaningful than that of all but a couple of his contemporaries in SF, but it also makes most of the fiction written in any genre or non-genre look unambitious, minor) — and there's a lot of best. (And even the less-than-best is usually quite wonderful for a few pages at least.) His work probably doesn't have the qualities of bestsellerdom, but it should have been — should be — recognized more fully, appreciated more deeply. He won nearly every award in the SF field at least once, but I don't think it was enough, because he deserved a pile of the damn things. He deserved other awards, too, not just genre ones. But even within the genre that he ended up (imprisoned?) in, he wasn't as well known as he should have been, nor was his accomplishment recognized as fully as it deserved. The same could be said for plenty of people, yes, but I've felt for a long time that it's especially unjust in Lucius's case, because the work is so varied, so powerful, so special.

So here we are, then, in a world without Lucius. We've got the words, though, the pages and the books — and we ought to do something with them — we ought to seek them out and get more of them back into print, we ought to harangue critics to write about Lucius's work with the depth and seriousness it deserves — and, too, we ought to sing songs in his honor and spend a bit too much time in a bar now and then, we ought to howl at the moon, we ought to seek out some good movies, we ought to scowl at liars while recognizing what liars we are, we ought to stand up for the weak, we ought not ever get too settled in ourselves, we ought to write long sentences, we ought to be gracious, we ought to be angry, we ought to fight against borders and pigeonholes and easy expectations, we ought to stand brave against the violence at the heart of our selves, we ought to dream and laugh and spare some time for people different from us, we ought to seek to be more and better, to escape old pasts and old resentments and, most of all, old failures — because we're what's left, and we're still here, and the words still live.
We had reached a spot overlooking a strip of white beach guarded at both ends by enormous boulders. The blue sea stretched tranquil and vast to the horizon, and the cloudless sky, a lighter blue, empty of birds, echoed that tranquility. Nothing seemed to move, yet I felt a vibration in the earth and air that signaled the movement of all things, the flux of atoms and the drift of unknown spheres. An emotion swelled in my breast, nourished by that fundamental vista, and I felt, as I had not in years, capable of belief, of hope, of seeing beyond myself. Jane linked her arm through mine and rested her head against my shoulder, and whispered something that the wind bore away. And for that moment, for those minutes atop the hill, we were as happy as the unhappiness of the world permits.

—"Rose Street Attractors", the final story in Five Autobiographies and a Fiction by Lucius Shepard

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28. RIP: Steve Moore


Via Strange Attractor Magazine comes word that writer Steve Moore has passed away at the age of 65. Moore was a prolific comics writer, as well as an early editor of and contributor to Fortean Times. Among his comics work, many series for 2000AD and Rebellion, including Lazer Erazer, Axel Pressbutton, Future Shocks, Red Fang and Valkyrie. Moore also wrote for Marvel UK and DC, but is best known for friendship and mentorship of the unrelated Alan Moore, who cited him as a huge influence.

Steve Moore worked on several Alan related projects including stories for Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, the novelization of V for Vendetta and the yet to be published The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, co-written by Alan.

[photo by Etienne Gilfillan]

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29. Author Sherwin B. Nuland Has Died

sherwinnulandAuthor Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland has passed away. He died of prostate cancer. He was 83 years old.

Nuland was the author of How We Die, a nonfiction work about assisted suicide. The book won a National Book Award in 1994 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Book Critics Circle Award in 1995. He also wrote Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, Medicine: The Art of Healing, The Wisdom of the Body, and The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths.

He regularly wrote a column on medicine and biomedical ethics called “The Uncertain Art,” for The American Scholar. He was also contributing editor to The American Scholar and The New Republic.

Nuland served as clinical professor of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, and as Chairman of the Board of Managers of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. He was also a member of the editorial board of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and a member of the Bioethics Committee of Yale New Haven Hospital. (Via NPR Books).


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30. Comic Book Artist Nick Cardy Has Died

aquamanVeteran comic book artist Nick Cardy has died. He was 93 years old.

Cardy was best known for his work with DC Comics and his work drawing Teen Titans and Aquaman. According to NickCardy.com, Cardy worked for the Iger/Eisner studio drawing for Fight Comics, Jungle Comics, Kaanga Comics for Fiction House. In the fifties he drew the Tarzan comic strip. When he started his career at DC Comics, he drew The Legends of Daniel Boone, a comic with only a couple of issues. In the 1970s he created artwork for movie posters including: Apocalypse Now, Movie, Movie and California Suite.

In 2005, Cardy was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. (Via Comicbook.com)


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31. Oscar Hijuelos Has Died


Cuban American novelist Oscar Hijuelos has passed away. He was 62 years old.

He became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love in 1989. Hijuelos wrote eight novels and a memoir called Thoughts Without Cigarettes. In an interview about that memoir, the novelist reflected on his early inspiration as a kid growing up in New York City:

I don’t think the New York of my youth did a “better job” of fostering creativity, which comes from within and not from without, but it did offer the average kid a much broader range of choices in terms of affordable and inspiring activities; just about everything was much cheaper. And there were a greater range of interesting mom-and-pop shops to enjoy: For example, I miss the old second-hand bookstores that one could find on Fourth Avenue and getting lost in that world. Surely you can find the same stuff these days on the Internet, but it’s just not as much fun. I can remember how one could walk into the Pierpont Morgan Library for free—now it’s about twenty dollars—and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a buck or two, or see a Broadway show for ten bucks.

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32. Tom Clancy Has Died

TomClancy304Bestselling novelist Tom Clancy has passed away, ending a legendary career in espionage fiction.

Three of his books were turned into movies: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears. His work was adapted into a number of video game franchises, including: Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. CNN had the sad news:

[Clancy] died on Tuesday in a hospital in Baltimore. He was 66. The author Tom Clancy in 1996. Ivan Held, the president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, his publisher, did not provide a cause of death.

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33. Robert Barnard Has Died


UK crime novelist Robert Barnard has passed away. He was 76-years-old.

Throughout the course of his career, Barnard (pictured, via) wrote 40 books and earned eight Edgar Award nominations. He enjoyed a following both in his native Great Britain and the United States. Here’s more from the New York Times:

Mr. Barnard called his work ‘entertainment’ and ‘deliberately old-fashioned.’ His murders, set mainly in small villages drolly christened with names like ‘Hexton-on-Weir’ and ‘Twytching,’ were plotted with an ingenuity and precision that made him popular among aficionados of what is known in publishing as the English cozy — mysteries with a picturesque setting, colorful locals and minimal violence. Reviewers said that many of his books crossed into the comedy-of-manners genre.

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34. Ann Crispin Has Died

Author and Writer Beware co-founder Ann Crispin has passed away.

Making Light posted the sad news and novelist John Scalzi shared a tribute to the science fiction writer. Earlier this week, she posted a final message for readers and writers on Facebook:

I want you all to know that I am receiving excellent care and am surrounded by family and friends. I wish all aspiring writers the will to finish and a good contract. Please continue to monitor Writer Beware and be careful who you sign with. Victoria Strauss and Richard White are there to help.


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35. Conan Gorenstein Has Died

Hachette Book Group sales rep and bookseller Conan Gorenstein passed away this week. He was 64 years old.

Gorenstein joined the publisher in 1991, working New York State, Vermont, Northeastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The publisher offered this tribute:

In his 22 years of service, Conan was a passionate sales rep, always interested in doing the best for HBG and his accounts Additionally, Conan was known far & wide for his cooking and kitchen experimentation – many accounts, authors & colleagues were delighted with his never-ending supply of baked goods … As many of us knew, Conan was a lover & aficionado of Magic, as his membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians can attest to.

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36. E.L. Konigsburg Has Died

Author E.L. Konigsburg has passed away. She wrote the beloved kid’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Her bookshelf also included A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and The View From Saturday. In an interview, she once said “You have to experience kindness in order to be kind,” explaining why she believed in practicing random acts of kindness. She also outlined her writing career:

I was the first one in my family to go away to college. I came from a small town where there was no guidance in the high school at all. It was a mill town, and I never knew anyone who made their living from the arts. When you did go away to college, you went away to be something – an engineer, or a teacher, or a chemist. I never knew anyone who went away to be an artist until I was in college. When I was in college at Carnegie Mellon, I wanted to be a chemist. So I became one. I worked in a laboratory and went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. Then I taught science at a private girls school. I had three children and waited until all three were in school before I started writing. When my third child went away to school, I started to write in the mornings. I’ve already mentioned that I want to write something that reflects their growing up, because when I was growing up the books I read never reflected me.

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37. A.S.A. Harrison Has Died

Author A.S.A. Harrison has passed away.

Her debut novel, The Silent Wife, will be released in July. She also published Orgasms with Coach House Press, Revelations (co-written with Margaret Dragu) with Nightwood Editions and Zodicat Speaks with Viking Penguin.

Penguin shared a brief tribute: “We are deeply saddened over the loss of a great woman and a very gifted writer.” (Author photo via)

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38. Peter Workman Has Died

Workman Publishing Company founder Peter Workman has passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.

He founded the nonfiction trade and calendar publisher in 1967. The company also includes Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Artisan, Storey Books, Timber Press and HighBridge Audio. Here’s more from Workman Publishing:

After a stint in the sales department of Dell Publishing, he founded Workman Publishing Company as a book packager in 1967, and within two years published its inaugural list leading with Richard Hittleman’s Yoga 28-Day Exercise Plan, a title that is still in print. His vision and drive grew Workman into a wholly unique and fiercely independent book publisher. Among its iconic bestsellers are B. Kliban’s Cat, The Official Preppy Handbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Brain Quest, Sandra Boynton’s children’s books, and 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. Also a trendsetter in the calendar business, Workman invented the groundbreaking boxed Page-A-Day Calendar.

He was the founder, president and CEO of Workman Publishing Company, one of the largest independent publishers of nonfiction trade books and calendars. In addition to the Workman imprint, the company consists of . He served on the board of the Goddard-Riverside Community Center and the board of Prep-for-Prep; he was a member of the Publishing Committee of UJA-Federation of New York and chairman of the Board of Governors of Yale University Press. Peter was a generous supporter of the Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and the Anti-Defamation League, among many organizations. In honor of his late brother he developed the David Workman Grant Program at Deerfield Academy, a charity to help students fund and implement their own humanitarian projects.

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39. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

I've only known of Roger Ebert's death for an hour, but I can't focus on doing anything else right now, so I might as well write this, raw and unformed and rambling as it may be. So be it.

A couple weeks ago, Ebert stuck my video essay on Clint Eastwood's endings up on his blog. The last time I felt so close to fainting was when Samuel Delany first called me on the phone. (I bet Ebert would have appreciated that. He was, after all, a science fiction fan.) I wish I'd sent him an email to thank him, to say how utterly gobsmacked I was to have somebody who'd been a constant presence in my life suddenly notice something I'd done, and approve it. I was too shy. I knew it was the right thing to do, knew he might even be pleased that his notice meant something to me, but ... I was too shy.

Roger Ebert was always there in my life. Well, not always. I suppose before the age of 10 or 11, I hadn't seen his TV show (one with various names, but I'll forever think of it as Siskel & Ebert), a show that was born the same year I was. In the days before the internet, that show was a lifeline for a kid like me, living in New Hampshire, in love with movies and yet without any easy way to get information about any but the most mainstream and blockbuster. I would watch with a pen in my hand and take notes on which ones sounded interesting. Thus I discovered so many films that I later came to love (or loathe). Often, I had to wait till they were on videotape; sometimes, I was able to see them at a Boston theatre on one of my occasional trips to the city. Who I am as a film viewer was deeply shaped by those years of watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel argue about movies on TV.

Truthfully, it wasn't until he lost his voice that I came to love Roger Ebert, though. As my film taste was shaped watching the TV show, I tended to side more with Gene Siskel. Then, once I was in college in New York I was reading film reviews in the Voice and some of the film journals (whichever ones the Barnes & Noble at Astor Place carried: I'd grab a pile, sit in a chair, and read them cover to cover). Siskel and especially Ebert seemed, to a callow youth rather arrogant in his opinionating, utterly mainstream and utterly bourgeois. I suppose I was trying to expel his influence, to kill a father. Such is the nature of callow youths.

Then the Sun-Times put his reviews online. He started blogging. He became Master of Twitter. He expanded his blog to include all sorts of younger critics from around the world. I learned about Ebertfest. I learned about all he had done for film culture in Chicago. I learned.

And though our taste wasn't ever exactly the same, I found I loved reading his reviews. Actually, I liked that our tastes differed, because he was so good at expressing what he appreciated or didn't appreciate, even if my response was the opposite. What I had never known from the TV show was just what a marvelous writer Ebert was. A writer who happened to be a film critic. But a writer first.

Ebert's most interesting reviews aren't just reviews. They do the job a review is supposed to — they tell us about a cultural product we probably haven't yet encountered ourselves, and they give us the writer's take on it — but they are full of tangents, side remarks, bits of fact or philosophy. They are essays in the broadest and most classical sense: moments of thought. The familiar Ebert voice is always there in the words, and it is a comforting voice, an entertaining voice, the voice of a friend or beloved family member, somebody really smart and passionate, somebody you just want to talk to — about anything, really. It's no surprise that when he wrote his memoirs, he did so masterfully. His reviews were also pieces of memoir.

Could one critic ever be so important again? Probably not. The cultural landscape has fragmented, fractured, gone all rhizomatic. Overall, I think that's a good thing. I wouldn't want to go back to those days of having to rely on Siskel & Ebert for all my movie information. I like the easy access to variety today. But still. Roger Ebert, man. We often say a particular death is the end of an era. With Ebert, it really is.

He inspired millions of people to care about movies as something more than just entertainment, but without forgetting that entertainment is central to the experience, that visual pleasure and narrative cinema are nothing to be ashamed of.

Again and again, people have spoken of his generosity, his decency, his humanism. It is remarkable that a man who published three whole books of his most negative reviews could be so beloved! But Ebert wrote wonderful negative reviews. (Even of movies I like!) His generosity of spirit comes through, even as he is saying that a film is utterly awful, a terrible waste of time or effort or talent, even immoral. And when he praised, he praised like a poet.

I learned about one of my favorite movies, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, from the Siskel & Ebert episode where Ebert lambasted it. I wouldn't get to see the film for at least a year after that episode aired, but I remembered it, and I watched the movie while trying to evaluate what I thought of Siskel and Ebert's discussion about it. I decided I completely disagreed with Ebert on it. I still do. And I am utterly grateful to him for what he said, because it provoked me and haunted me and challenged me. There are worse ways to learn about aesthetics and morality, worse ways to learn about yourself.

Neil Steinberg at the Sun-Times chose a perfect quote from Ebert's Life Itself:
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote, at the end of his memoirs. “No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
Carve those words in stone. Better yet, project them through celluloid.

Tonight, I will choose one of the movies from his most recent Sight & Sound ballot to revisit, probably The General because it would be nice to laugh, and to watch that most graceful of all screen graces, Buster Keaton, my favorite silent film actor.

Thank you, Roger Ebert. All our thumbs are raised high in your honor.

It's two hours now since I learned of Roger Ebert's death.

The signature closing words of Siskel & Ebert are today among the saddest in our language:

The balcony is closed.

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40. Roger Ebert Has Died

The great film critic and author Roger Ebert has died.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the sad news. You can find all of Ebert’s books at this link. Here’s an excerpt from the Sun-Times obituary:

Ebert wrote more books than any TV personality since Steve Allen — 17 in all. Not only collections of reviews, both good and bad, and critiques of great movies, but humorous film term glossaries and even a novel, Behind the Phantom’s Mask, that was serialized in the Sun-Times. He even wrote a book about rice cookers, The Pot and How to Use It, despite the fact that he could no longer eat. In 2011 his autobiography, Life Itself won rave reviews. “This is the best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times.

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41. RIP: Fred

201304031133 RIP: Fred
French cartoonist Frédéric Aristidè who worked under the name Fred has died at age 82. Winner of the 1980 Grand Prix at Angoulême, Fred was best known for Philémon, a long running fantasy strip about a youth who falls through a well to a magical world, accompanied by his loyal donkey. Fred co-created the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri, and was published in the New Yorker, among Engish language projects. A final Philémon book was piublished just this year.

2013040311331 RIP: Fred

201304031134 RIP: Fred

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42. Achebe

Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013

It's going to take me a while to have anything coherent to say about Chinua Achebe now that he has died. Not just because he was a great writer — and he was a great writer, as Aaron Bady says, "full stop". But because, right now at least, I can't think of a more deeply influential writer in our era. Not just for Things Fall Apart, though that book certainly did a lot. But for so much else — his work as an editor for the African Writers Series, his essays on Conrad, his championing of Amos Tutuola after Tutuola's work had gone out of fashion, etc. etc. (If you ever needed evidence of the irrelevance of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fact that Achebe never won it is Exhibit A.)

The best writing I've seen so far on Achebe in the wake of his death comes from Keguro Macharia. You should read the whole, beautiful essay, but here is a taste:
His departure now – euphemism must be used, if only once – feels much like an encounter with his work: it was unexpected because it had been possible to believe that he was beyond mortality. Achebe simply was. He existed in the world and the world existed because he did. I could afford to take his existence for granted, could afford not to teach or discuss or write about his work, because he simply was. His being in the world made certain things unnecessary. Because he was. Certain figures inspire a kind of faith that they have transcended death, and their deaths hit all the harder – most recently for me, Adrienne Rich who, like Achebe, simply was. When they die – euphemisms can no longer work – we continue to call their names, hoping that they will return to us, that their ghosts will continue to energize the labor they started and sustained and that we now feel unable to continue. So it is that we continue to call for Audre Lorde. Believing, as we must, that she can still provide the right words, the necessary words, the transforming words.

Simon Gikandi has written that Chinua Achebe “invented” African literature. This is not a claim about who wrote first – other Africans wrote before Achebe. Nor is it a claim about the volume of his work – others have written more. It is a claim, I think, about Achebe as an institution builder, as one who made possible a certain kind of imagination and, in his role as editor with the African Writers Series, made possible many other imaginations for African literature. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to a writer is this: that a particular book has been written. A particular imagination explored. A room populated. And multiple other rooms made possible.

Few contemporary Africans, if any, feel the need to write another Things Fall Apart. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, Things Fall Apart could not be written again. Achebe’s work had given African writers the permission to pursue their geo-histories, to take multiple paths, to pursue the mystical and the routine, the profane urban and the perverse rural, the unending past and the foreclosed future. Things Fall Apart had been written, and African writing pursued its multiple afters, with Achebe as inspiration, as guide, and as champion.

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43. Chinua Achebe Has Died

The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe has passed away. He was 82 years old.

Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958, his first novel and also his most well-known book. He also wrote Anthills of the SavannahArrow of God, and many other books. As a poet, he also released his Collected Poems. Exiled by civil war and politics, he spent many years teaching in the United States. Here is a quote Anthills of the Savannah to remember the great writer:

Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.


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44. Jack Gilbert Has Died

Poet Jack Gilbert has passed away at 87 years old. Follow this link to explore Collected Poems, his life work published earlier this year.

Earlier this week, the LA Times released a profile of the poet, an excellent introduction to his life and work. In 2005, The Paris Review published a long interview with the poet, here is an excerpt, sharing his thoughts about poetry:

I think serious poems should make something happen that’s not correct or entertaining or clever. I want something that matters to my heart, and I don’t mean “Linda left me.” I don’t want that. I’ll write that poem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being in danger—as we all are—of dying. How can you spend your life on games or intricately accomplished things? And politics? Politics is fine. There’s a place to care for the injustice of the world, but that’s not what the poem is about. The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”—I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only things—leaving religion out of it—we’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming.

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45. Robert Lescher Has Died

Literary agent Robert Lescher has passed away. He was 83-years-old.

Lescher established his career in the publishing industry as an editor. He climbed his way up and obtained the title of editor-in-chief at Henry Holt & Company. During his tenure at Holt, he edited the works of legendary poet Robert Frost, short story writer Wolcott Gibbs and memoirist Alice B. Toklas.

Here’s more from The New York Times: “When Mr. Lescher began his literary agency in 1965, his reputation for aesthetic insight and painstaking attentiveness to writers made him highly sought after…[Lescher's] clients included Frances FitzGerald, Benjamin Spock, Paula Fox, Madeleine L’Engle, Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keeffe. Isaac Bashevis Singer, having served as his own agent for many years, hired Mr. Lescher in 1972, six years before Singer would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.” (via Shelf Awareness)

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46. Dolores Prida Has Died

Dolores Prida, the playwright, poet and columnist, has passed away.

Her plays included Beautiful Señoritas, (1977), A House of Her Own (1999) and Four Guys Named José … and Una Mujer Named María! (2000).

Here is an excerpt from one of her 2011 columns for the Daily News:

As I celebrate my 50th anniversary as a New Yorker, the one regret I have, the one shadow marring and in a way devaluing all the good things that have happened, is that today, as an American citizen with a Hispanic name, I feel less welcome than in 1961. There’s an atmosphere of hate and rejection toward immigrants, and too many ears are now closed to what we have to say. It’s an invisible, insurmountable wall keeping us apart. It’s sad, I know but, hey, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.


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47. Passionate advocate of 'books for kids' - obit

Margaret Elizabeth Dunkle, Obit

extract, from The Age

MARGARET ELIZABETH DUNKLE (nee TETER) AUTHOR, EDUCATOR 26-10-1922 - 23-11-2012 MARGARET (Maggie) Dunkle, a leading member of Victoria's children's literature community, has died peacefully in Bali.

Margaret was well known as an author, critic, librarian, lecturer and consultant. She was made an honorary life member of the Victorian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia in recognition of her 15 years on the council executive and her passionate commitment to providing quality literature for children.


In 1979, Maggie resigned from the State Library of Victoria to become a children's literature consultant. In her new career, she became a regular children's literature reviewer for The Age, the Australian Book Review and the Australian Bookseller and Publisher journal, she consulted with and mentored authors and illustrators of children's books, gave lectures and storytelling engagements and was one of the original members of the Storytelling Guild. She also wrote books including guides to children's literature such as Books for Kids - A Guide to the Best in Children's Reading for Australian Parents and Teachers. Her most important scholarly work was Black in focus: a guide to Aboriginality in literature for young people. Her books for children included The Story Makers, a collection of interviews with authors and illustrators of children's books, which stimulated interest among Australian teachers in encouraging children to write to authors. Her final children's books, called the Clean Bali series, were written in Bali and published in English, Balinese and Indonesian.

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48. Ed Koch Has Died

Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, has passed away. He was 88 years old.

Throughout his lifetime, Koch wrote and co-authored several books including Mayor (1984), All the Best: Letters From a Feisty Mayor (1990) and Citizen Koch: An Autobiography (1992). According to CNN, a funeral has been planned for February 4th.

Here’s more from the article: “The lawyer-turned-public servant was a U.S. congressman from 1968 until he ran for mayor of the city in 1977. He served three terms until David Dinkins defeated him in a Democratic primary.”

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49. Ronan ‘Little Seal’ Has Died

Ronan, a brave child who battled an incurable genetic disease, has passed away. His mother, Emily Rapp, wrote about her life with Ronan in the upcoming memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World.

Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease when he was only nine months old. His mother captured their experiences as the family took this unimaginable journey together with Ronan, nicknamed “little seal.”  His family posted this note

Ronan passed away peacefully on Thursday, Feb. 15th at about 3:30 am in Santa Fe.  He was surrounded by friends and family. If you would like to make a donation in Ronan’s memory, please do so at the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, who have been a huge support to Emily and her family.


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50. Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez

images2 Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez
By Lea Hernandez

[Toren Smith passed away on March 5, a pioneer of manga in America whose name was probably best known to those who were around when he was helping launch the global manga phenomenon. Jonathan Clements has a wonderful reminiscence of Toren's career here, from his early days translating manga at Viz to his selling Studio Proteus to Dark Horse in 2004. I saw some personal comments artist Lea Hernandez posted on Facebook about Toren, and wondered if she could expand on them here—as an employee at Studio Proteus and one of the unsung manga pioneers herself she not only gives a picture of the early days but of how friendships evolve...and end. -- Editor]

My long-time friend Toren Smith has passed away, and I’m heartbroken. I worked for him over the course of seventeen years as part of the elite Studio Proteus team; doing retouch on adult comics, and rewriting titles like 3×3 Eyes, What’s Michael? And Oh! My Goddess!. If Toren had lived another year, I would’ve known him for exactly half my life.

30 232307 0 OhMyGoddessPartII3TurkeyWithAl Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez
Toren is the great unrecognized godfather of manga in the U.S., better than all the preening purists who followed him into manga in English combined. No matter how you trace the roots of manga becoming a viable market in the U.S., you’ll find yourself back at Toren.

Toren made the business of manga in the U.S. what it is today by getting reluctant (and outright hostile) comics retailers (notoriously hard nuts to crack) to carry manga by giving it to them in a format they were comfortable with: reading left-to-right (as opposed to their native right-to-left), in monthly “floppies.” This paved the way for all the manga released in the U.S. that followed, no matter how far afield companies wandered in quality. Once manga caught on in comics stores, publishers like Dark Horse (who published a great deal of the manga Toren packaged) began pushing into bookstores, opening the way for many more publishers.

Toren paid his translation, writing and lettering team good rates, he put out books (even the adult titles), with tremendous craft and respect for the creators. He paid royalties on writing and retouch. While Tokypop was producing manga translations by microwaving tankouban (collections) to melt the glued bindings in order to remove the printed pages for scanning, Toren stuck to his guns and kept making the best manga translations in the market. Toren rightly decried (as did I) selling a generation of fans on the idea that shit production and sloppy translation was “100% authentic.”


3712797216 a21fa858d4 Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez
I met Toren for the first time at San Diego Comic-Con. He was an intimidating, tall guy carrying around a cardboard box of books like Johji Manabe’s Outlanders. He said he was going to publish translated manga. I realized he was the guy who put out the legendary BayCon ’86 Japanese Animation Program Guide, and it was exciting to meet him. I mentioned I was going to work for a company that he didn’t like (with good reason). Toren got loud in his disapproval. He was a little scary. I had a dream of working on manga and making graphic novels, and he was telling me I was already doing it wrong. I decided that maybe I didn’t like him too much.

I wanted to work on manga and anime more than anything else. I was mad for anime and manga. I loved the look of it, the episodic drama of series, the artists. My now-ex held the first anime con, Yamato-Con, in Dallas in 1983. We ran a fan club together, I edited a fanzine devoted to manga- and anime-influenced and inspired erotica. When I found out a letterer lived close to me was retouching manga, I cadged a job as his assitant.


In spite of my first impression, I stayed in touch with Toren. I wanted to work on Studio Proteus books. I visited Toren in San Francisco to learn lettering from X-Men and Appleseed letterer Tom Orzechowski. I drew cover roughs, hoping to do a fill-in cover for Outlanders or Appleseed. I had a uphill battle, and fell into a deep funk.
Toren convinced his friends Okada (president) & Takeda (vice-president) of Gainax to hire me as the VP of their new company, General Products USA. One of my first jobs as VP was to hire a chairman and get the ball rolling on AnimeCon (which became AnimeExpo). On Toren’s advice, I hired John McLaughlin, AnimeCon was go, and I returned to the business of beginning a vice-presidential nervous breakdown and deciding comics was pretty easy after all. 


Just when I was wondering about a paycheck, Toren reappeared in my email inbox after one of his long absences (which I’d gotten used to) and asked if I wanted to rewrite a book again. He felt like he wasn’t the right person for it. Of course I wanted write a book! I got busy re-learning the Studio Proteus script style through patient corrections by Toren.

A couple weeks ago, Toren emailed me. He said he was feeling sick that day and decided to go through his garage in preparing to sell his house and return to Canada. He praised me for my work on 3×3 Eyes and What’s Michael? in Super Manga Blast, and on Oh! My Goddess!. I was over the moon.

One of the things I wanted more from Toren than almost anyone else in my career was for him to think I was good, completely missing he never would’ve hired me if he didn’t think I was. He admitted he’d been sparing in his praise, I (and boy do I feel like a dick now) agreed. But I loved that he noticed, I thanked him, because I’d busted my ass to live up to a standard in presenting manga that no one even tried to match. It was good to know that if I worked for Toren, I was one of the best.

p Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez
Toren only saw my daughter, Summer, when she was young because we moved from Alameda (across the bay from San Francisco) to Texas when she was five, but throughout her childhood, he emailed her pictures of funny plane crashes when he found out they cracked her up. If it blew up or flew into telephone wires, Torenshared it with Summer. After my son, Fox, was diagnosed with autism Toren shared stories with me about his autistic cousin.


When I told Toren I’d been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, he sent me the best books on the subject from Amazon. He told me how he’d struggled with it himself.

Toren gave me extra retouch work and advanced my pay so I could make a down payment on a house. We’d both had bad experiences as renters, and he hated being a renter more than I did. He said rent “was like pounding sand down a rathole.”


May 5
I was angry about life (which was a common mode for me at the time because I was inconsistent in Good Life Decisions) and decided I was going to go out withToren and Adam (Empowered) Warren, (someone I’ve known as long as Toren) and get drunk. I succeeded magnificently in getting superdrunk on May 5th, and throwing it all back up on May 6th.. The sun that morning was very bright.


March 6
When I heard Toren had died, I got a bottle of wine, and called Adam. Over four hours, I cried and talked and laughed, and drank the whole bottle of wine and most of a box of Cheez-Its. Unlike 1989, I didn’t have a hangover. The Cheez-Its gave me heartburn. As my fiance, David, held me, I fought sleep and asked for pie, cupcakes and a Subway sandwich.

March 9

Saturday, 8AM
On the drive up Highway 5 to San Francisco for Toren’s funeral, as Summer and I entered the Techahapi Mountains, we saw light snow on the peaks. Then we were being snowed on. As we got higher in the mountains the snow got heavier and was so close to the road, we could’ve stopped and touched it. (You know, if we also wanted to get creamed.) We opened the sun roof to let the snow in. Just past the snowiest deep blue mountain, the snow thinned out, the universe’s on-the-nose metaphor for aging ended, and we were in the San Joaquin valley and on our way to getting pelted by bees as we passed through vineyards and orchards.

Saturday, 3:40PM
Toren’s funeral was small. I was 10 minutes late, hampered by the Bay Bridge, aggressive cabbies and untimed lights. Lateness from unplanned circumstances, the story of my career. I had the honor of sharing with Toren’s parents and sister and brother-in-law that their son and brother, who could do anything (he’d had a full scholarship for college to be a doctor), had chosen to change Western pop culture. He’d been good to me and my kids.
I held hands with Dana Lewis, one of Toren’s oldest friends and a mighty mighty translator, and she rested her head on my shoulder. I hugged Toren’s ex-wife and amazing letterer and illustrator, Tomoko Smith. I missed Adam, who couldn’t get a flight out.

March 10
Sunday, 11AM
The long trip back to LA started with driving Summer through the neighborhoods where I crashed with Tom Orzechowski and letterer L. Lois Buhalis, where Torenhad his first office, through the first neighborhoods I saw in 1989, when I already thought I was too old to make my mark in comics.
I couldn’t find Toren’s old apartment or rented house. (One evening he returned unscooped dog poo left in front of the house to the dog’s owner by means of picking it up and slapping it onto the owner’s jacket. Typical Toren.)

Sunday, 1PM
Summer and I went to Japantown to shop. (Her, Pokemon, me, a a swath cut through Daiso. Kitchen tools, a timer shaped like a chicken, a plain glass bell.)

Sunday, 2PM
Outside Kinokuniya Books, a performance of a man summoning ghosts was just ending.

Sunday, 5PM
I realized I was not on Highway 101, but on 17, and too far down it to turn back. The two-hour detour took Summer and I through isolated landlocked towns of almost-new condos, then into remote strawberry farm country. I pulled off the road to get a picture of a faded-to-gray Victorian farmhouse that was both repellent and fascinating. I respected the signs that said to stay off the property and took pictures from the road, even though I wanted very badly to get close.
Summer and I listened to music, and it struck me how much Toren’s and Adam’s taste in music influenced mine. Def Leppard, They Might Be Giants, songs from anime.

Strawberry country was lonely, and I had lots of time to meditate. I had too much damn time to meditate. The sunset was pink and early because of the hills, and it felt like Toren fading away. I listened to an interview with the drummer Dave Grohl where he talked about not living in the past, echoing Adam who warned me against living in the same while I drove through San Francisco and cried over regrets.


After days of not finding a house for Gainax to rent for their U.S. Office, and being stood up yet again for a house showing, I had a meltdown. With the “for rent” ads still clutched in my hand, I put quarters in a pay phone and started calling about rentals nearby so my long, hot trip to Oakland didn’t go to waste. Toren told me he admired the way I could cry and get right back to work.


Monday, March 11
It’s my 49th birthday. I pulled off on a dark, safe spot in the Techahapi Mountains to look at the stars. I wondered what it was like to see them for the last time.

Summer and I finally got home to L.A. We’ve seen ghosts, friends, people we’ll probably never see again, stars, strawberry fields. The car was a mess from flinging around comfort food like chocolate croissants, Carl’s Jr., coffee, almonds from Mercy Creek, palmiers, and stuffing it with books and 100-yen goodies.

I started crying again when David welcomed me home. I thought about how Toren admired the way I could cry then pick myself up. I started breathing again. I decided I was done crying, and I slept.

Toren was not the easiest person to know. We butted heads. We yelled at each other. We hung up on each other. I was not always the best freelancer. He was not always the most understanding boss, but he was smart, thoughtful, engaged. He cared deeply, and he was a tough guy who was easily hurt. Toren was one of the most difficult people I ever worked for, but he was also the most honorable.



LeaHern11 Manga pioneer Toren Smith as remembered by Lea Hernandez
Toren had just treated me to my first sushi lunch. We were walking out of the Castro, and I was (to use Toren’s turn of phrase), bitching bitterly about how little time I got to visit with a friend.

I said, “A day isn’t enough!”

Exasperated, Toren said, “Fifteen years wouldn’t be enough!” 

Neither was twenty-four years, as it turns out.

Rest in peace, Toren.

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