Category: Reviews

By Night, Vols. 2 & 3 by John Allison, Christine Larsen, and Sarah Stern

This is the remaining two-thirds of John Allison’s attempt to see if he could reconfigure the essential Britishness of his writing and port Tackleford wholesale to its American equivalent: Spectrum, South Dakota.

(No, I don’t quite see it, either. I’m thinking some old mill town in western Massachusetts would be better, or somewhere in coastal Maine, but I am an East Coaster to begin with.)

In case that’s confusing: John Allison writes sprightly, fun stories with various levels of fantasy elements, set mostly in the English Midlands, often centering around the quirky town of Tackleford, first as a series of webcomics (Bobbins , Scarygoround , Bad Machinery , and see these posts of mine) and increasingly as floppy comics that people actually pay money for (most famously Giant Days ). A couple of years ago, he launched a series called By Night, with many Tacklefordian flourishes, set in, as I said, the distant town of Spectrum. The comic was drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, who also provided variant covers.

I covered the first collection here back in May, and now I have the rest of the story: Vol. 2  and Vol. 3  collect the rest of this twelve-issue series. So far, it doesn’t seem to have spawned a sequel.

And I still find it basically the same kind of thing as the first volume: fun, but subtly off and not quite as enjoyable as Allison’s stories set in a greener and more pleasant land. The dialogue often falls somewhere between Allisonly snappy and actually colloquial American, as if he were trying to stretch to speak in a foreign tongue and not consistently succeeding. Nothing is actually wrong here: it’s a fine adventure comic, with snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and a plot that bounces around and makes things happen. It just feels like someone trying to “do John Allison in the USA” and subtly missing the point.

So: former friends Jane and Heather have discovered a portal into a fantasy world, and of course intend to monetize that…by making a documentary film about it. (Allison is always quirky, even when he’s trying to be American about it.) This is slightly hampered, first, by their being driven out of the fantasy world by the authorities there, and, secondarily, by the increasingly heavy-handed tactics from authorities here related to the corporation that built the portal and then went bankrupt, pauperizing the town.

These two volumes feature a lot of running about, and an array of colorful characters, from drug dealers to a small green troll-like fantasy-world person, from aged (and possibly insane) scientists to salt-of-the-earth vermin-extermination working men. There are nefarious plots from both ends of the portal, surprising revelations, applied mad science, semi-random murder, and pulse-pounding board meetings.

All of the ingredients are fine, and By Night could seem really awesome to someone not familiar with Allison’s other work. (Or to someone violently allergic to anything non-American, I suppose: goodness know we do have those.) It’s not one of his best works, but that is a very minor quibble on my part — this is a better run of comics than nearly anything cover-featuring a person wearing a mask and published in the last eighty years.

I still think most readers would be better served as an introduction to Allison by diving into Bad Machinery or Giant Days (depending on their preferences), but what do I know?

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2

REVIEW: Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2

The names of the legendary animators of the 30s and 40s have faded with time, except to the connoisseurs and collectors, which is a shame. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery should be as well known as respected as is Walt Disney, though these days, the latter is better known as an entrepreneur than an animator.

This is why we should love and support Warner Archive, for gathering the forgotten but still vital cartoons of the past and making them available in contemporary forms, which brings me to the just-released Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2. One a single disc we have 21 cartoons to enjoy, most of which hold up extremely well.

Avery, to those who recognize the name, certainly know him for his work on Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. But, after he moved to MGM, he continued to offer up side-splitting entertainment with characters such as the sexy Little Red Riding Hood and her leering adversary the Southern Wolf (voiced by Daws Butler).

Here, he worked with writers Heck Allen and Rich Hogan and their efforts hold up. Droopy Dog and Spike are also represented here. Standouts include “Cuckoo Clock”, “Magical Maestro”, “One Cab’s Family”, “The Cat That Hated People”, and “The First Bad Man”. Given changing social mores, the disc comes with a disclaimer that the disc is intended for Adult Collectors and may not be suitable for children to which I say, phooey.

The digital transfer is far from perfect and may disappoint those used to pristine high def reproductions of work. Sadly, a fire in the 1960s destroyed many negatives, limiting what could be used to make these discs and future ones. Clearly, the source material was in rougher shape and the best efforts were no doubt taken. That said, the color saturation is fine and screens well on a television screen. As I understand it, the source material was varied to generate the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, but they do a nice job so audiophiles may be the only ones troubled.

Nicely, there is a nearly hour-long Tex Avery: King of Cartoons documentary.

List of Shorts:
1. Little Rural Riding Hood
2. The Cuckoo Clock
3. Magical Maestro
4. One Cab’s Family
5. Cat That Hated People
6. Doggone Tired
7. The Flea Circus
8. Field And Scream
9. The First Bad Man
10. Out Foxed
11. Droopy’s Double Trouble
12. Three Little Pups
13. Dragalong Droopy
14. Homesteader Droopy
15. Dixieland Droopy
16. Counterfeit Cat
17. Ventriloquist Cat
18. House Of Tomorrow
19. Car Of Tomorrow
20. Tv Of Tomorrow
21. Farm Of Tomorrow

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

This book makes we want to get Hegelian, but I have to immediately insist that it’s not the book’s fault — I’ll overanalyze anything given half a chance, and this just happened to wander into my sights.

So, with that caveatAre You Listening?  feels like a synthesis. Tillie Walden started her comics career with shorter books and stories — which I still haven’t seen, and which may, for those who know them well, utterly shatter this idea I have — and then moved on into big books with first Spinning , then On a Sunbeam , and then Listening.

Spinning is the thesis: a memoir about Walden’s own life, growing up mostly in Texas, a girl realizing she’s queer, beginning to think about what she wants and doesn’t want in her life, focused through the lens of her decade-plus as a competitive skater.

On a Sunbeam is the antithesis: a SFnal story, set in an entirely imagined universe (one with no male gender at all, as far as the story showed, though there was, oddly, one “non-binary” person), with strange and quirky rules, and a story of first love thwarted by the universe and (more prosaically) by the fact that first loves tend to end anyway.

Last year Walden came back with Are You Listening?, a graphic novel set in real-world Texas but featuring fictional characters, about two young queer women who are not going to have any quote-unquote “relationship” with each other, a road trip on a smaller scale than Sunbeam but featuring eruptions of fantasy unlike Spinning. So: synthesis.

Walden is already an interesting and subtle graphic novelist, even this early in her career, so I don’t want to try to pigeonhole her, but I think this could be a signpost. What I hope to see from her over the next years or decades is more books like Listening: based in a realistic world but with fantasy elements, about young women (probably getting older as Walden does herself) navigating things other than just first love and coming out, who are more and more at home in their own lives as time goes on.

(We’ll see if that’s the case: Walden is clearly smart and talented enough to go an entirely different way, somewhere along the line.)

So Listening is the story of these two women and this one trip. Bea is in her late teens, and is clearly running away from her small-town home, for reasons we won’t learn for a while but are clearly powerful. Lou is almost a decade older, a small-town mechanic making a trip to visit family — but it also quickly becomes clear that she’s also running away, in the quieter way of a more settled, slightly older person who has gotten deeply unhappy with some of the major things in her life.

Along the way, they find a cat, and try to take it back to its home. Lou teaches Bea how to drive. They open up to each other, at least somewhat. And they are pursued by the mysterious, unexplained Office of Road Inquiry as they drive further and further into West Texas.

As far as I can see, that Office has nothing to do with Bea’s secrets or Lou’s restlessness. They do have an interest in the cat, though: maybe it’s the cat that ties everything together. Listening is not a story in which everything is tied up in a bow at the end — it’s the story of a few days in Bea’s and Lou’s lives. Important days, transformational days. Days where they change each other and move on in their own directions with more purpose, but just a few days.

Like Walden’s previous books, Listening is about people and their relationships. There are other things going on in her books, but the people are central and their emotions are the drivers of her books. Listening feels like it has a tighter focus than Spinning, which covered whole years and all of young Walden’s concerns, or Sunbeam, with its larger, complex cast and richly imagined universe. Walden here is bouncing two characters off each other — both of them feel like getting out, of different things for different reasons, and then throwing other complications at them to see how they react and what kind of people they are when they come out the other end.

It’s a surprisingly quiet book for a road-trip story about two women pursued by potentially-supernatural and definitely threatening entities, but surprising is par for the course for Walden so far. And surprising is a wonderful and amazing thing for any creator — even more so for someone who can put out lovely, deep books like these this often.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

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REVIEW: Total Recall

The 1980s were littered with small production companies, many of which had one or two notable successes and a lot of schlock. As the audience tastes changed, and the blockbuster became ever more important, these houses – Golan-Globus, Cannon, Avco Embassy, and of course, Carolco. That latter studio had one surprise smash hit, First Blood, with Sylvester Stallone. They were a company on the rise.

During all of this, a screenplay adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” from Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett had been floating from studio to studio. It proved a tough sell and a tough story to crack but Dino DeLaurentis seemed game until his Dune sunk in the sand.

By then, Arnold Schwarzenegger was aware of the project and wanted to be the star and when Dino let go, he convinced Carolco to buy it. Arnold’s deal was a big paycheck but more importantly, he got to pick producer, screenwriters, and director. It was he who picked Paul Verhoeven to come aboard.

The story features a construction worker, Schwarzenegger, who keeps dreaming of Mars. He visits Rekall, which can implant false memories for thrill-seekers, but things go awry when it triggers his suppressed memories of being a secret agent on Mars. He heads back there and gets caught up in the revolution against the corrupt governor Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). Things blow up, the special effects were pretty impressive, and the cast included Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Marc Alaimo, and, the go to man, Michael Ironside.

What resulted was the box office hit Total Recall, one of the finer science fiction films from the 1990s. It has held up well, withstood bad sequels, and still pops up on cable. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the film is being released this week in 4K Ultra HD. In fact, it comes from Lionsgate Home Entertainment in a three disc set, including one Blu-ray disc for the film and some special features, and one just filled with special features. And yes, a Digital HD code is included.

This package easily eclipses the 2012 Blu-ray that Verhoeven himself was involved with all-around. The color saturation on both the 2160 and 1080 transfers are superior with terrific resolution. It’s sharp but not perfect with some compressions issues here or there, but nothing that will spoil the home viewing experience.

The discs come with Dolby Atmos soundtracks which complement the video just fine. You certainly will gain new appreciation for the Jerry Goldsmith score here.

As for the special features, the 4K comes with the Audio Commentary from Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven. Several 1080p features on the same disc include the all-new and worth watching Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (59:22), Open Your Mind – Scoring Total Recall (21:24), and Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (8:26), spotlighting artist Ron Miller.

On the film’s Blu-ray disc, you also get the Audio Commentary, Open Your Mind – Scoring Total Recall, and Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall.

The second Blu-ray offers up Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, Total Recall: The Special Effects (23:15), Making Of (8:03), Imagining Total Recall” Featurette (30:12), and the Trailer (1:30).

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Several hundred thousand people — mostly girls, mostly under the age of fifteen — already have very strong opinions on this book in particular and Raina Telgemeier in general, and it’s unlikely that anything this One Old Guy could say will shift any of them in the slightest. (And most of them love it and her — not everyone, since nothing is universally beloved, but close.)

Raina Telgemeier is the pre-eminent maker of comics in our time: the crest of the YA graphic novel boom, the reigning queen of the Scholastic Book Fair, author of some of the most circulated books in thousands of libraries. A whole lot of comics fans have no idea who she is, though: the dismissive explanation is because they think only superheroes (or maybe the slightly larger pamphlets-on-Wednesday* market) count as comics, the more reasonable explanation is that everyone focuses on the stuff they like and care about, and comics is now big and capacious enough (like books, or movies, or TV) to have entirely separate, disjoint worlds within it.

But, yeah, Raina is huge. When she had a new book out last year, it was a massive publishing event. It was called Guts ; I got to it this week.

Telgemeier started her comics-making career by adapting four of Anne M. Martin’s perennially-popular “Baby-Sitters Club” books into comics, and then, just about a decade ago, had her first comics memoir, Smile , about dental troubles she had starting in middle school and how that affected her life. It was a massive bestseller, and was followed by the similar memoir Sisters  and the fictional GNs Drama  and Ghosts  (both about tween girls not unlike the way Telgemeier portrayed her younger self).

Guts is in the same vein as Smile and Sisters: starting from a moment in Young Raina’s life and moving forward through the months after that to show her dealing with a medical/personal issue. This time, it’s a stomach flu or something similar when she was in fourth grade: probably the first time she vomited since she was a toddler. That led to more worry about intestinal issues, which led to anxiety-induced stomach pains, and so on — the whole spiral, at the age of about ten. (And that’s not uncommon, actually — especially for relatively smart, sensitive kids of that age, even more so for girls.)

Of course, anxiety is never just about one thing, and it doesn’t stay compartmentalized: Young Raina’s school work suffers, and it causes trouble with her friendships (and one definitely-not-a-friendship, with Michelle, who starts off bullying Young Raina) as well. Young Raina eventually starts talk therapy, because her parents are worried about her. (And Telgemeier has an afterword, frankly about the fact that she’s in therapy even now, and that her anxiety is more controlled, but never “went away.”) That’s the story: how Young Raina started an anxiety/stomach spiral, and how she started to deal with it. Like a lot of things in life, dealing with it is ongoing and continuous.

Guts is personal and true and specific, and I’m sure a lot of librarians and teachers are happy to put in the hands of other kids going through something like Young Raina did. But Telgemeier’s work is more than just that: we were all kids once (some of us still are), and we all had and still have things that make us anxious and worried. Guts is about that feeling, that process — understanding what makes us concerned, what can lead into that spiral. And it’s also a good story — Telgemeier draws open-faced kids whose emotions are all right there (as they are at that age) and shows us what it’s like to be those kids, whether they’re named “Raina” or not.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon by Aaron Renier

My first reaction to this book is idiosyncratic and petty; it may also come off as a minor spoiler. So flee now if you need to.

If you call your organization the “Knights” of something, it implies certain things: people chosen for specific qualities, organizational structure, a martial bent. Calling the family that survived a cataclysm “the Knights of the Waxing Moon” does not check any of those boxes, or any of the other boxes that people think of when they think of knightly orders. The family can be the equivalent of a secret society, they can keep ancient mysteries and protect the treasures of the ancients — but they are in no way knights.

But here we are, in Aaron Renier’s graphic novel The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon . It continues the story of the original Unsinkable , picking up almost immediately after the events of that book and continuing to add more complications and dangers for young Walker and his friends.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I think I liked the first one: maybe I was in the wrong mood, maybe I didn’t remember the details well enough ten years later. This time out, I kept thinking too much of Knights was vague and unfocused: the shipwrecked pirates are divided into factions, sort of, but don’t have clear leaders and also don’t seem to be jockeying to create leaders. Their goals are equally vague or unclear: getting off the island they’re shipwrecked on feels like it should be a bigger deal than it is, or there should be a “we want to settle here” faction. The aforementioned Knights are mostly just living where they live and occasionally repelling people who wander in, without any larger plans. There’s a creepy family that clearly has some goals — riches and power, most clearly — but also already has a lot of unexplained power and abilities, no clear leaders, and underpants-gnomes-levels of fiendish plots. (Send more family members to the place where our family always dies…something something…we get the secret metal that controls the world!)

All in all, Knights felt like a book with a lot of people running around in circles for a couple of hundred pages. Sure, they found some Neat Stuff, and battled over that, but why they were doing any of it was always muddy. It looks great, and the characters are interesting and specific — but the ways they interacted didn’t quite click for me. To be brutally honest, it’s like a combination of me not paying enough attention this time and forgetting what I read in the first book. This is likely what we call a Me Problem, so check out the first book if you haven’t already (and which I loved at the time), and then maybe move on to this one if you like Walker’s first adventure.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: The Lost Adventures of James Bond

REVIEW: The Lost Adventures of James Bond

The Lost Adventures of James Bond
By Mark Edlitz
315 pages, $29.95 (print)/$9.99, (eBook)

It sometimes feels like that for every James Bond film made, there are several others that never get before the cameras. We hear of actors, writers, and directors coming and going, which sometimes explains the long gap between films. And with an unexpected delay for No Time to Die (please open in 2021), we could use a dose of 007.

Mark Edlitz delivers with his latest deep dive into pop culture. His self-published The Lost Adventures of James Bond covers the films, novels, comic books, and other media complete with fresh interviews with many who were actively developing stories we’ll never see.

While I knew comics writer Cary Bates wrote an unsolicited treatment, which he sold, I had no idea John Landis, fresh off Schlock, was invited by Bond impresario Cubby Broccoli to write a screenplay for Roger Moore. (It’s worth reading just for his anecdote about Queen Elizabeth.) Nor was I aware that there was active development of at least three different Bond films for Timothy Dalton, who lasted a mere two outings.

We learn how times change, audience tastes change, and sometimes it was hard for Eon Productions to keep up. Or the things that excited some writers didn’t excite Eon. And yet, elements from many an unused story found their way into other productions throughout the years, so little went to waste.

With his exhaustive research, he has unearthed details on the films, but also does a deep dive into the James Bond Junior television series, covering almost every angle. Even television commercials get their due.

While many interviewed here never got to see their ideas fully realized, they almost all give credit to Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter who set the cinematic template in the 1960s, going on to pen a dozen missions. Apparently, he wrote a series of essays about Bond, a rare book I’d like to find and read.

His appendixes include a comprehensive catalog of everyone to portray the secret agent in all media, far more than you would realize.  There’s also a guide to all the stories in print and on film. Finally, the treatments to the unproduced A Silent Armageddon and “A Deadly Prodigal” are presented in their entirety.

Edlitz supplements his interviews and narrative with fine illustrations from Pat Carbajal along with imagery from international comic books and comic strips through the years.

This is a worthy addition to anyone’s Bond library and certainly alongside Edlitz’s earlier The Many Lives of James Bond.

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 2: My Return Home by "Tardi"

This is, obviously, a sequel. The first volume of Rene Tardi’s WWII war memoirs, as interpreted, reimagined, and made into a graphic novel by his son Jacques, was published in French in 2012 and English in 2018. That one covered the bulk of the war: how Rene got into it, his capture and transfer far to the east to Stalag IIB, and the life of the camp through the end of 1944. (See my post on that book for more.)

My Return Home  picks up the story from there: the first page has the POWs on the march, having already been herded out of the stalag by their posten (guards). It’s late January in Northern Poland — well, what is now Northern Poland; it was conquered Nazi territory then, part of the crumbling dreams of the greater Reich. Jacques begins deeply in medias res, giving no explanations for potential new readers. We don’t even get a date for nearly a dozen pages, and if we’ve forgotten that Jacques is drawing his younger self (circa 1958 or so; he was born in 1946 and seems to be a tween here) as an interlocutor and interpreter for Rene’s sketchy notebook account, there will be no relief to our confusion. (That’s the two of them on the cover: Rene from 1945 and Jacques from about 1958. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, frankly, but it works as a framing device.)

So: this is the story of a long forced march, of hundreds of French POWs (and some others, I think — Jacques and/or Rene are not particularly clear on the makeup of the POW group), through Poland and northern Germany, for reasons that were not clear to Rene on the ground in 1945 and are no clearer to us now. The posten apparently thought they would be killed by the advancing Russian armies — which is probably entirely true — and perhaps were still dutiful or suspicious enough not to leave hundreds of former combatants, even ones broken down by four years of camp life, in their rear as they fled West. (It probably made sense to them at the time. Some of them likely even made it out to safety and survived the end of the war.)

Rene kept a skeletal diary of the march — names of towns and kilometers on the road for each day, and a few other notes on river crossings and armies seen in the distance and similar events. That diary survived for Jacques to turn it into this book, but the reader has to be amazed at how much work it took for Jacques to go from those quick notes, which we can see on the endpapers, to three wide panels per page, full of landscape and men trudging through that landscape, with events and dialogue and endless marching.

In the end, though, My Return Home is more than a bit of a slog itself. We know Rene made it home, and the march is neither particularly interesting (another night in a random field! backtracking yet again to cross the same river!) nor horrifying (there are some moments, but it looks like nearly all of the POWs survived and only a few of them got up to anything that could be called seriour war crimes [1]). It’s another war story, and war is hell: we know that already. My Return Home is about a hundred and fifty pages of men marching through dull terrain under duress: that’s it.

Jacques’ writing, or perhaps the translation by Jenna Allen, is a bit stilted in spots. Since Jacques’s afterword is stilted, and fond of random exclamation points in the middle of the sentence the same ways, I’m inclined to pin it on him. His art is strong as usual, and his slogging POWs remind me of Mauldin’s soldiers — maybe just due to the era and my American biases.

There is a third volume, which was just published in the US, covering (I think) Rene’s return to Germany as a civilian, years later. But, frankly, it’s looking like there only needed to be one I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, and that’s the one when he actually was a prisoner of war in Stalag IIB.

[1] Rene did, as part of revenge against the remaining posten near the end of the march. It’s mildly shocking in the story, but not surprising.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW:

REVIEW: Westworld: Season Three: The New World

HBO’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Westworld is an interesting barometer of geekdom’s temperature. The first season arrived and it was a cause celebre, given its rich, sprawling cast, topical questions about the role of AI in our lives, and plenty of violence and nudity.

The second season clearly went off the rails and people questioned what was going on even as those who stuck around were intrigued by the glimpses into the other worlds vacationers could visit.

Through it all, there was Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the android who went beyond her programming and chose to control her destiny. In the third season, things went back on the right track as you can see for yourself in the just-released Westworld: Season Three: The New World from Warner Home Entertainment.

Delores escaped the park at the end of last season and we see “our” world through her eyes which was an interesting bit of writing. We also meet Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), a former soldier turned petty criminal whose story takes its time but ultimately dovetails with Delores’. Similarly, the story of Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel) takes its time and shows other aspects of this world and its inhabitants.

Where Delores’ “reawakenings” led to her sentience, Maeve’s takes us in another other direction and explores her in a World War II Italy Warworld reality, which brings her to Serac.

Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and William (Ed Harris) make the odd couple of sorts in the third major arc of the ten-episode season. Here, they struggle with determining reality versus simulation, an interesting notion as more people in the real world plug into various forms of artificial reality (Ready Player One anyone?).

The connector to all of this is Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), who is never less than interesting to watch.

The good ideas and strong performances more than make up for the uneven writing across the season. It’ll be back and there’s more than enough here to entice us to come back for another E-ticket ride.

The box set comes with both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray editions along with a Digital HD code. The 2160p transfer in 1.78:1 is excellent. The Dolby Vision nicely punches up the blacks and darker details from the traditional film.

The 1080p transfer is equally strong which helps tremendously. Both benefit from the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and Dolby Atmos so this makes for an excellent home video experience.

Much of the Special Features, scattered across the Blu-ray discs, are drawn from the existing HBO extras, starting with Escape from Westworld (1:53), which introduces viewers to the setup. Disc one also features Creating Westworld: Parce Domine (6:36); The Winter Line (7:18); The Absence of Field (6:05); and Exploring Warworld (3:56).

Disc Two offers up Creating Westworld‘s Reality:  Genre (3:54) and Decoherence (4:48). Disc Three features We Live in a Technocracy (13:44) spotlights producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy; A Vision for the Future (14:09); RICO: Crime and the Gig Economy (7:07); Westworld on Location (11:20); and Welcome to Westworld: Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Analysis (3:46), Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Who Said It? (3:43), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Analysis (3:22), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Who Said It? (2:57); Creating Westworld‘s Reality: Passed Pawn (4:09) and Crisis Theory (9:03).

Nobody’s Fool by Bill Griffith

It is an odd and interesting thing: the biography of someone whose life is badly-recorded and full of gaps. It’s even more quirky when that person didn’t really do anything in his life, and even the records of where that person was are messy and often missing.

But Bill Griffith, cartooning king of all things pinhead-related, wanted to tell the story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, the second-most famous real-world pinhead [1], even though Schlitzie’s origins are disputed and his life basically consisted of being dragged around the US so people could gawk at him for fifty-plus years.

The result is Nobody’s Fool , a graphic novel about a person who may have been born Simon Metz around 1901 in the Bronx, and definitely was buried as Schlitzie Surtees in 1971 in California. Schlitzie was male, but the characters he “played” on stage were more often than not female — because that made the fake “savage” stories more shocking, because he was less than five feet tall, because it was a random carny idea that stuck, or for some other random reason, we don’t know.

The list of things we don’t know about Schlitize, though, are long. Well, “we” don’t know much about any random person born in 1901 and dead since 1971 — if that person did public things, they’d be recorded, but most of us live our lives in private, and those lives all die as the people we knew die. The people Schlitze knew are from a world that’s been gone for over sixty years, and they were marginal people to begin with — many of them with physical deformities or other health issues that shortened their lives, all of them living on the fringes of society, traveling from town to town to be exhibited as “freaks.”.

And Schlitzie, who I have to guess had some kind of development disorder — Griffith doesn’t speculate, or provide an armchair diagnosis — didn’t leave any kind of records himself, and didn’t live the kind of normal life (marriages, children, buying real estate, making business deals, joining clubs, working for companies) that generated the usual records. So we have third-hand stories and speculation and some informed guesses, random datapoints and decades-later interviews with people who knew Schlitzie.

It all gives Griffith a series of scenes, mostly of Schlitzie on stage or doing performance-adjacent tasks, since that’s the parts of his life than anyone knows anything about, fifty years after he died. But what did he feel? What did he think? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. Griffith doesn’t even try to define what Schlitzie could and couldn’t do — we know he liked to wash dishes, and that he had a larger vocabulary than other “pinheads” on the same circuit at the same time. But that’s about it.

So what Griffith has here is a sequence of pictures, a sequence of events that probably happened, more-or-less. We get to look at Schlitzie, the freak, acting weird, performing in sideshows and in the 1932 movie Freaks. We’re told stories about his origins that are probably more true than those told at the time — last of the Aztecs! half-monkey, half-human!, the missing link! — but aren’t really “true.”

This is still a sideshow. Schlitzie is still being paraded in front of a crowd to show off how weird and inexplicable he is. What he was like as a human being is still tertiary at best. Griffith cares about Schlitzie and his life, but he just doesn’t have the materials to tell this as a story. It’s just disconnected moments featuring someone with no agency and little understanding of anything that happened to him.

So this is a deeply sad book, even if it’s about a person who seems to have been relatively happy, as humans go. In a hundred years, this may be all anyone ever knows about Schlitzie Surtees. And we’ll still know nothing about Simon Metz.

[1] After Zip-the-What-Is-It, who seems by all accounts to have been a perfectly mentally “normal” African-American man who figured out a weird career for himself and ran it for all it was worth to the end of his life. That is probably a more interesting and meaningful story, but it’s not a pinhead story.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.