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Only a day after recording this promo, the man known as The Ultimate Warrior is dead at age 54.
Born Jim Hellwig, the masked wrestler eventually changed his name legally to Warrior. One of wrestling greatest icons from its 80s glory days, The Ultimate Warrior brought unmatched ferocity and craziness to his matches and promos. He was a comic book character brought to life.
After being on the outs for nearly 18 years with the WWE—at one point they even released an entire DVD devoted to showing how erratic he was in real life—Warrior had made a return just in the last few days, including a NEW three year contract to be a brand ambassador for the WWE. On Saturday, the 5th, he was iducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. On Sunday he appeared at Wrestlemania. On Monday he cut the above promo on Raw. And on Tuesday…he passed away.
Details weren’t known as I write this but suffice to say…wrestling is a very very difficult way to make a living.
The Ultimate Warrior at his WWE Hall of Fame Induction. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman, AP Images for WWE)
Stephen James Moore was born at 2:00pm on June 11th, 1949, in a house on Shooters Hill in South London, where he lived all of his life, and died on or around the 16th of March, 2014, still in that house on the hill. In between, he produced a huge body of work, of a very high standard, most of it written in that same house. He was a hugely private man, but his life and mine intersected over the past few years, and I got to learn a lot about him in that brief time.
But, actually, I was aware of Steve Moore’s work long before that. I had only ever been a desultory reader, at best, of 2000 AD, where he wrote a multitude of short sharp tales, but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Warrior, where he was a vital component both in front of and behind the curtain, changed my life. However, I had probably been reading his uncredited work in British comics for years before that, all unknown.
After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve spent a year and a half working in a laboratory in a flour mill, before started at Odhams Press as a Junior Office Boy, in their offices at 64 Long Acre, on 1st May 1967, and within three months was promoted to junior sub-editor on Pow! and Fantastic. The first story he sold professionally was a three-page ‘Pow Short Story’ called The House in the Haunted Swamp, that appeared in Pow! #45, late in 1967, when I would have been turning eight years old, and was undoubtedly reading Pow!, or comics like it. He went on to work on editorially and write stories for several different UK comics, including Whizzer & Chips, Valiant, and Cor!!, with its two exclamation marks. Eventually, in 1972, he left the security of fulltime employment to become a freelance writer, a career he pursued for nearly forty years thereafter.
Before all this, though, he had been very active in British SF and comics’ fandom, attending meetings of SF fans in London in his teens, where he met writers like Michael Moorcock, John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and E.C Tubb, and made his first steps in publishing fanzines, on some very primitive copying technology. After attending Worldcon in London in 1965, he became involved in comics fandom, and in July 1967 he published Ka-Pow, the first British comics fanzine (although the actual first comics ‘zine on this side of the Atlantic was Merry Marvel Fanzine, published by Irishman Tony Roche, who lived in Dun Laoghaire, a once-posh-but-now-dilapidated suburb of Dublin where I was also living, but was still only seven years old, so completely unaware that history was being made, just down the road from me). Further ‘zines followed, and contacts were made with all sorts of people who would later go on to become important names in UK comics, as well as further afield.
In August 1968 Steve Moore organised, along with Phil Clarke and Kay Hawkins, Clarke’s then-girlfriend, Comicon ’68, Britain’s first comics’ convention, held in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. The registered attendance was less than fifty people, but these included comics artists Paul Neary, Mike Higgs and Jim Baikie, and Nick Landau and Mike Lake, who would go on to found Titan Distribution, open the London-based Forbidden Planet comic shops, and publish black and white comics reprint volumes as Titan Books. Also in attendance, although not listed on the membership list, was Derek Stokes, universally known as Bram, who went on to open legendary London bookshop and counter-culture hangout, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed. One other name on that membership list, although only in a non-attending and supporting capacity, was a fifteen-year-old Alan Moore, of whom we shall hear more later. A second comic convention followed, in 1969, called, obviously enough, Comicon ’69, which Steve was also on the committee of, after which he decided that the convention life was not for him, and not only retired from con-running, but from con attending as well, and became a self-professed recluse, certainly as far as attending public events relating to either SF of comics were concerned. But attendees at that second con included Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Barry (Windsor) Smith and Bob Rickard, who we will also hear more of later.
Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes opened Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in Bedfordbury, just beside Covent Garden, in 1970 and, soon afterwards, fantasy writer Stan Nicholls opened Bookends in Notting Hill in 1971. When Steve Moore went freelance in 1972, he was invited to buy into Bookends, and after parting with £500, he found himself as part owner of a SF bookshop, which also came with a room in the basement full of comics, where he could write in between serving customers. Some of what he wrote was for an editor called John Barraclough, who had just launched a comic called Target for New English Library, and took comics stories from Steve than included a four-part horror-thriller called The Curse of the Faceless Man, and a sword-and-sorcery strip called Orek the Outlander, as well as text serial stories in all sorts of genres, including The Horror in the Churchyard and The Scourge of Planet X. At the same time, Barraclough was supplying a Swedish comics company with Tarzan stories, which Steve turned his hand to. There were also a few serials for IPC girls’ comic, Mirabelle, which he didn’t even get to see in their finished form, as IPC didn’t send out copies, and he was too embarrassed to go and buy copies himself. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, but it turned out that it really was all too good to be true. The Obscene Publication Squad raided Bookends in late 1973, and, between one thing and another, the shop went to the wall, with £5000 worth of debt, which Steve Moore ended up having to mostly repay himself, while Stan Nicholls ended up in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, so at least their friendship endured, for a while, until Nicholls decamped to Landau and Lake’s Forbidden Planet shop.
Meanwhile, in another part of his life, Bob Rickard, who he’d met through various fannish activities in 1968, was about to change Steve Moore’s life, forever. Rickard had discovered that the Odeon cinema in Birmingham was showing Chinese movies at one o’clock in the morning, so that Chinese restaurant staff could see them after work. He brought Steve to see a film called The Sword, starring Wang Yu, and he was hooked, immediately. This would lead to Steve seeing as many of those Hong Kong and Taiwan produced movies as he could, and eventually writing about them, and Chinese culture in general. He spent a large amount of his leisure time in the early and mid-1970s hanging around in Chinese cinema-clubs in the Chinatown area around Gerrard Street in London, and still had some of the lobby cards and posters he managed to persuade the staff to give him. Eventually this led him to the I Ching (more correctly Yijing, as the preferred spelling is these days), or Book of Changes, which became a major area of scholarship for him, leading to his writing the non-fiction The Trigrams of Han, published by HarperCollins in 1989, which was well-liked by fellow scholars, but made him no actual money, to speak of. He also joined the I Ching Society in London, more for the publications than the meetings, and soon took over production of their journal, The Oracle. He ended up as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was one of the main contributors to I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography, an exhaustive 350-page analysis of the subject, published by Routledge in 2002, and continued contributing to both scholarship and debate in the field, right up to the present day.
Another consequence of his friendship with Bob Rickard was that he became involved with the fledgling Fortean Times – originally just called The News, back in November 1973, when it started, but changed to its current name in June 1976 – for whom he clipped odd news stories (as would I, and many others, years later), wrote on Oriental phenomena, and soon became a contributing editor, reviewer, and general occasionally-paid helper-out. Because of Steve’s long friendship with Bram Stokes, the Fortean Times people began meeting in a room above Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, until the shop closed down in 1981. None the less, forty and more years after it started, he would still meet up with the rest of the FT helpers every few weeks, to sort out all those clipping people sent in, and keep in touch. During those forty years, he worked as editor, indexer, and contributor on a large number of books relating to the magazine, including – but not limited to – six volumes of Fortean Studies, thirteen collected volumes of the magazine, and a number of compilations of clippings, with titles like Fortean Times Book of Inept Crime and Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths (published in America as The Comedian Who Choked to Death on a Pie—and the Man Who Quit Smoking at 116: A Collection of Incredible Lives and Unbelievable Deaths). One other piece he produced for them was to have a profound influence on my own life, but I’ll be getting to that just a little bit later.
Meanwhile, he was still writing comics, back where we left him in the mid-seventies, but now from the comfort of his own home, which is where he worked from from then on. He had worked with comics’ editor Dez Skinn in his time at Odhams/IPC/Fleetway (where there had been many mergers, and name changes, both of the comics and the companies producing them), and went on to work with him in a number of titles for other companies, including House of Hammer (1976), Starburst (1977), Hulk Comic (1979), and Dr Who Weekly (1979). He also ended up writing some, most, or all of the contents of TV and movie tie-in annuals for John Barraclough at Brown, Watson/Grandreams Ltd, starting with the Kung Fu Annual in 1974, and going on to write a total of 69 over the course of the next thirteen years. An average year – 1979, in this instance – saw him write content for the Dick Turpin, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Sherlock Homes & Dr Watson, Spider-Man, Star Trek – The Motion Picture, and Young Maverick annuals. One year he wrote a Supergran annual. If you’re from this side of the Atlantic, and in a certain age range, there’s a very good chance you got annuals he wrote for Christmas. As well as all of this, he worked a few days a week at Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, wrote for the Fortean Times, and even wrote for ‘men’s’ magazines, including a story for Titbits that was allegedly a true telling of My Sexual Adventures in Bangkok, but was obviously entirely fictional, as he had never been farther east than Dover. This story was to have been published under the newly-devised pseudonym of Pedro Henry, although some sort of editorial gremlin saw it actually go out under his own name, embarrassingly. But Pedro would survive to fight another day.
While all this was going on, there were changes afoot in British comics. In February 1977 IPC Magazines launched 2000 AD, one of the tiny handful of UK comics that is still in print. Steve Moore’s first story for 2000 AD appeared in Prog 12 (that is, issue #12), with the first part of a 12-part Dan Dare story, on the14th of May, 1977. He would continue to write for the comic, on and off, for nearly thirty years, finishing with Prog 1458 on the 28th of September, 2005. In Prog 25, he wrote the very first story to be called a Tharg’s Future Shocks, which would become an umbrella title for very short stories – which is still used as try-outs for new talent – which would go on to be written by all sorts of people, like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Alan Moore.
Alan Moore, who is famously no relation to Steve Moore, had first met his namesake through the pages of Phil Clarke’s sales-list fanzine The Comic Fan, around the middle of 1967, where Steve had advertised looking for a book called Dead or Alive, an Avengers novelisation – the British TV series Avengers, rather than the American comic Avengers, that is. In the end, it turned out that the book had never actually been published, of which Steve Moore said,
So the whole friendship is basically rooted in a quest for a non-existent, chimaerical book … which is a motif that’s turned up occasionally in the work of one or other of us, in mine as recently as Somnium. It’s not a bad symbol for writers, too, as their job is to bring non-existent books into existence, by writing them. But perhaps more interestingly, in view of our more recent notions about Idea Space, we were brought together by the idea of a text, rather than a real one. Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.
A regular correspondence soon developed between the fourteen-year-old Alan and the eighteen-year-old Steve, and Alan would become one of Steve’s two closest friends, along with Bob Rickard. And Steve is the man Alan blames for leading him astray, in all sorts of ways, although Steve begged to differ, when I asked him about it…
PÓM: I have this romantic scenario in my head where Alan is the wild one, always leading you astray, whilst you are the quiet one, being dragged into all sorts of wild scrapes by your friend. But this is really entirely wrong, isn’t it, as regards comics, drugs, and magic? You are quite literally the man who led Alan Moore astray.
SM: Well, I’d like to portray myself as an evil Svengali who took one look at Alan and realised that here was a striking-looking but malleable individual who I could get years of pleasure destroying an inch at a time, but it wasn’t really like that … even if he has said publicly that I was the man who ruined his life! I just wander into these things like writing comics, smoking dope, practicing magic and resigning on points of principle, and the next thing I know Alan’s decided that as I haven’t actually died as a result, he’ll do the same … only he does it much larger. It’s not my fault, honest! Mind you, he doesn’t always follow my lead. I’ve never got him hooked on China or classical music, in the same way that I’ve never really shared his interest in science or stand-up comedy. We just have areas of interest that overlap … and enormous mutual respect in areas where they don’t. And even where they don’t, there’s still a bit of influence going back and forth.
Both Moores were interested in working in comics, and would later quite often try to put work each other’s way. Alan was perfectly capable of getting his own work into music paper Sounds in 1979 – where Steve would later take over writing scripts for Alan to draw on the younger Moore’s The Stars My Degradation comic strip – and into 2000 AD, where he would write Future Shocks. Steve, meanwhile, had a hand in the early planning of a new comics magazine in the early eighties called Warrior, where actual rights for creators were promised by the publisher, Dez Skinn, and suggested that his friend Alan might be able to help relaunch 1960s UK superhero Marvelman for the title. Between the two Moores, they did the vast majority of the writing for Warrior, with the senior contributing strips including The Legend of Prester John, Father Shandor, Demon Stalker, and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. Later on there would be Twilight World, and the wonderful Zirk stories, and lots of other bits and pieces, some under his revived pseudonym of Pedro Henry. This eventually led to both Moores writing comics for the American market, with Steve’s Laser Eraser and Pressbutton appearing in Eclipse Comics’ Axel Pressbutton series.
He also contributed occasionally to another ambitious British comics anthology series, Atomeka Press’s A1, including an article about Fortean Times in A1 #2, in January 1990, which I read, and which caused me to go looking for the magazine, and which, along with Jan Harold Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker, was responsible for fundamentally changed my worldview. In is no exaggeration to say that a good deal of what I am today has been shaped by my reading that article in A1 #2, and by Steve Moore.
But he soon moved away from comics, mostly, and this was when he was heavily involved with Fortean Times, as mentioned above. He did come back to comics, to write for Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint, where he contributed to titles like Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, and America’s Best Comics: A to Z. His last work for comics was to write two five-issue mini-series for Radical Comics, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush, on which the forthcoming film, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is based.
By the middle of the new millennium, though, he was done with comics, and had retired, largely to look after his brother Chris, who was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease. Chris Moore died in 2009, after a remarkable life of his own, in his own chosen field – as documented in this eulogy by Alan Moore – and his brother Steve found himself with time to write his first novel, Somnium: A Fantastic Romance. This was published by Strange Attractor Press, in association with his own Somnium Press, in November 2011, and this is the point at which my own occasional interactions with Steve Moore were to stop being virtual, and become real.
I got offered a review copy of the book – probably prompted by my writing this piece about the book – and, out of the blue, also got an email from Steve Moore, thanking me for the piece, and asking if I would like to ask him any questions about it. After I got over my genuine shock at getting a mail from a man I had always presumed was going to be forever beyond even my reach, I told him that I would indeed. And I did, ending up with this interview, which went online on the 11th of November, 2011, as pleasing and magical a date as you could wish for.
There was one other aspect of Steve’s life that he cared about deeply, and shared with his friend Alan: Magic. This was, once again, a field where the older Moore had taken the lead, although the younger one is the more famous of the two of them for doing it. Both of them had their own chosen deity: The moon goddess Selene in Steve’s case, and the snake god Glycon in Alan’s. Together, they formed The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, originally a two-man coven – but soon to include many of their friends also – for which they laid out the ground rules in Kaos #14 in July 2002, as republished by myself on my own Glycon blog. Despite their flippant words there, it was something they both took seriously. One of its outgrowths would be Alan Moore’s Unearthing, a 45-page essay for the Iain Sinclair edited London: City of Disappearances, which I asked him about when I interviewed him in 2011:
PÓM: You are legendarily reclusive. How did you feel about Alan’s Unearthing, which is essentially a tell-all biography of you? Or is the reputation for reclusiveness exaggerated?
SM: Reclusiveness is relative! I prefer to think of myself more as ‘private’. I love seeing my friends, and I like going out (though with the state of 21st century culture, it has to be said that there isn’t really a great deal to go out for, except perhaps dinner) … but I just don’t like making public appearances, and I’m not at all interested in fame or reputation. All I want to do is write. I don’t have the slightest interest in the game of being ‘a famous writer’ and I’ve no liking for Conventions, so nobody sees very much of me. Which suits me …
Anyway, as for Unearthing … Alan was invited to contribute a piece to Iain Sinclair’s anthology London: City of Disappearances, and really the only part of London he knew anything about was Shooters Hill, as he kept visiting me here. He then decided, for reasons best known to himself, that he wanted to make it a biography of me as well, so I just said okay. I told him I’d correct any factual details, which I did, but apart from that he could write anything he liked about me, which is what he did! Apart from the comic exaggeration in places, it’s all true, so I said fine and thought the piece would disappear as one of Alan’s ‘minor works’. Obviously it didn’t happen like that! Now it’s become an audio-recording, been performed, will soon appear as a coffee-table book photo-illustrated by the brilliant photographer Mitch Jenkins and, apparently, will even be coming out as an app. How do I feel about all this? Well, I imagine that like most people I tend to judge what’s ‘normal behaviour’ pretty much against what I do myself, so I’m just sort of bewildered by all the attention it’s getting. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with Mitch and his photographic team, meeting the musicians and attending the performances. And the whole thing has rather surprised my friends and relatives!
PÓM: I suppose there’s an enormous irony in a piece about a private man becoming the subject of such an amount of attention, particularly in a book apparently about disappearing. There’s a section in Unearthing where Alan dictates what happens next, and then has you do what he’s said you would. Did this actually happen, or is that just Alan entertaining himself?
SM: Of course it happened! I read through the manuscript when it first arrived and knew I just had to go for my usual walk, as described. And, yes, I hung about for a while by the burial mound, as described, and there were actually rain showers that morning. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite disappear, as the manuscript prescribed! But you have to remember that Unearthing was both about magic and, to a certain extent, was a magical piece in itself, with the writing and world described merging together. So I naturally acted out what was described, just to ‘make that real’. And Alan knew I would when he wrote it, even though he hadn’t told me in advance what he was intending to do.
Although Steve Moore had essentially retired from work, having passed 60 in 2009, he did still have a few projects that he kept up with. He had a wide correspondence, and kept up his Fortean-related activities. He had been, for quite a number of years, slowly working with Alan Moore on a book called The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, a project that was finally actually approaching an end. Under his own Somnium Press imprint, he produced occasional 16- or 20-page booklets, mostly composed of his own Tales of Telguuth, which he had at one stage also written for publication in illustrated comics for in 2000 AD.
And, in August 2013, out of the blue, once again, I got an email from him saying,
I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days I remembered that when we were last in touch you expressed an interest in doing a more general interview with me, and now that I’ve got a bit of distance from the comics industry, I thought it might be time for a retrospective. It’s something I’ve put off, although I’ve never really had a problem with interviews on more specific subjects, like Abslom Daak or Somnium … but I’ve always tended to be a bit nervous about more general retrospectives, because I want to avoid situations where I’m asked questions like ‘You know Alan Moore better than anyone, so tell us all about him and … etc.’ That’s still not an area I particularly want to get into, but if you want to discuss my life and career, I’d probably be up for that. Assuming you’re still interested, of course …
So if you’re up for it, I’d probably prefer to do this by email, as I then get time to think about my answers, and possibly look things up (though a lot of records have long disappeared … along with large chunks of my memory!), but we can always do further sets of questions if you want to ask me more about something that’s come up. And as it’s a pretty long career, we might want to do it in sections, too. But if we both look on it as ‘something we do when we have time, around other things’, I imagine we could do it. Let me know what you think. No obligation, of course. If you’ve got better things to do, no problem!
So, did I want to interview the most reclusive man in British comics, and a man who had, unknown to himself, taken a hand in my own life, here and there? Yes, I most certainly did. We started a slow to-and-fro correspondence, working through his life from its beginnings in 1949, slowly towards the present day. I’d send a handful of questions, he’d send answers back, and I would then respond with additional questions about his answers, as well as some fresh questions to move it all forward a little, and so on. It slowly inched onward, not only at the cutting edge of it, but in the middle as well, as either he or I thought of something that might be useful to add in to a particular section. Sometimes he would suggest specific questions, and sometimes I would suggest how I wanted him to answer a particular question, to allow us to reach a particular thing we wished to discuss. It was probably the most satisfying interview process I had taken part in, of all the interviews I have done.
Amongst other things, behind the veil of private emails, we discussed our own lives, a little. We both were unwell, in our own ways. I had prostate cancer, but it was going to take years to get me. He had problems with his stomach and lungs, and was having regular CT scans, but as recently as the beginning of February he had been told it was all under control, and that he needn’t bother coming back for another scan until October. There was certainly no sense of imminent death, and I had imagined that another few months would get us to the end of the chronological part of the interview, and onto more etheric matters, like his ideas about writing, and about magic, and other things. Then a bit of editing, and we would actually have a usable document, although exactly what would happen to it, and how or where it would actually be published, was still anyone’s guess.
I had broached the idea of death with him, early on, and had intended to come back to it towards the end of the interview.
PÓM: I can’t help noticing that both of your parents and your brother died in their sixties. Does this give you pause for thought at all, seeing as you’re in your sixties yourself now?
SM: Yes, of course it does, especially now that I’m developing a few common medical problems associated with ageing. On the other hand, though, my maternal grandfather lived to be 90, so there may be hope for me yet! But I’m pretty much of a fatalist, and a recent scientific notion about the nature of time (called ‘Eternalism’) suggests the future already exists and the universe may actually be deterministic. A lot of people don’t like that idea, but I actually find it rather comforting, because it means that everything happens in the only way it possibly can, whether we like it or not. Even if that’s not the case, when it comes to time to go, I’ll just have to go, so there’s not really any point in fretting about it. But I’m aware that my time isn’t limitless, and some projects can’t be left forever. And that awareness may also have had something to do with my deciding to do this interview.
In the meantime we both took holidays, had problems with our computers, and got distracted by other things, as one does. By the beginning of March, six months after we started, and after a little over 48,000 words, we had got as far as Warrior – already the size of a small book, with the prospect of possibly the same amount again to come. I had sent off a last handful of questions, just to tidy up the very end of what I needed to know about his time at Warrior. When I didn’t hear back from him after a week or so, I sent another, and then sent a mail to a few other people, to see if they had heard from him. They hadn’t. One of them arranged to have a member of the police call to the house on the evening of Tuesday the 18th of March, and he was found dead there. There hasn’t been an official announcement of the cause of death, but it’s likely that it’ll turn out to be related to his heart, or his lung problems, I imagine.
One of the last things we know Steve Moore did was to post out copies of The Marmoreal Frown of Ahuralura Marrz, his last Somnium Press booklet, and a copy arrived to me on Wednesday morning, which I got just a few short hours after hearing of his death. It’s hard not to think of it as a last magical act, a last story from a great man, and a great storyteller, set to arrive after his death. As he said himself, in another context, ’Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.’
I only got to meet Steve Moore once, in London last November, when he surprised not least himself by going along to An Evening with Alan Moore, to mark the launch of Lance Parkin’s biography of the younger Moore. There were many things about the evening I treasure, and meeting Steve is very high on that list. I had fully imagined that we would meet again, on one of my occasional visits to London, but that is no longer to be. And I still can’t really believe that.
He had already made plans for his funeral – in Sketches of Shooters Hill, another of his Somnium Press booklets, whilst talking about a four-thousand year old Bronze Age burial mound on Shooters Hill, he says,
Born high up on Shooters Hill myself, when I die I want my ashes scattered on the burial mound, by the light of a lovely full Moon. So, just for a moment, I too can become an offering to the local Gods and Goddesses, and merge my essence with the native soil … before all that physically remains of me is blown away and scattered, like oak-leaves on the whirling wind.
I hope I can be there, at least for that, to pay my final respects to a wonderful, extraordinary, and gentle man.
[The first and last photos are by Kevin Storm, and are used with his permission. The rest are a mixture of images Steve Moore sent me, to go along with the interview we were doing, scans of my own books, and things I've, essentially, robbed off the internet. ]
– Pádraig Ó Méalóid –
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
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 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
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]
Author 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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Veteran 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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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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Bestselling 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.
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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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.
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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By: Michael Thorn,
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Margaret Elizabeth Dunkle, Obit
extract, from The Age
MARGARET ELIZABETH DUNKLE (nee TETER)
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.
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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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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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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
Outside Kinokuniya Books, a performance of a man summoning ghosts was just ending.
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.
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.
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 Savannah, Arrow 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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|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.