Ed Catto: A Tangled Web
In December I (foolishly) jumped into the latest Nate Heller detective story, Better Dead, by Max Allan Collins. This book has nothing to do with the Holiday Season. This book has nothing to do with making oneself better or preparing for the New Year’s challenges. In fact, this book is so enthralling it distracted me from my Yuletide tasks and annual planning. [[[Better Dead]]] is just a fun book. As with other adventures in this series, the author places his hero in a real-life historical hotspot, bringing to light a fascinating true-life story with new insights.
Kind of like the musical Hamilton without the rap musical and colonial wigs.
ComicMix’s “Grand Poobah”, Mike Gold, once famously quipped “if you only read one Max Allan Collins book this month, make it this one.” He was teasing about the author’s prolific writing. The talented ‘true crime’ and detective scribe produces so many books. But that truism certainly applies to this book.
With the New Year starting, I’m in a reflective mood. You probably are too. But I have not been struck by that big “ah-hah” insight. I wish I could offer one up to you all but….I got nuthin’. “Don’t give up” and “Try to be kind to people” is about all I’ve figured out in the past year. But the big idea that I’m struck by is how connected it all is.
This book has so many connections to so many other things happening. Here’s a few…
Roy Cohn, the lawyer who helped Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare efforts is a character in the book. As you probably know, he was one of Donald Trump’s mentors. And you may remember that the previously mentioned Mike Gold wrote about Cohn’s irrational self-loathing and hatred of gay men.
Bettie Page, the famous burlesque and pin-up icon, makes an appearance in this book. And there are a couple of connections with her too. Back in October, my wife Kathe and I, along with two visiting friends, were listening to live music. While the band played, the bar (Moondog’s in Auburn, NY) was showing silly and inconsequential things on their TV screen, presumably so that patrons would instead pay attention to the band.
One of the looped videos was a grainy old Bettie Page burlesque dance number. I recognized her and enthusiastically pointed her out to my wife and friends.
They looked at the old footage and then looked at me. They wondered how anyone would I even know a thing like that. Their harsh verdict was rendered: Ed was full of more useless Geek trivia.
But that all changed when another guy in the bar (wearing a Bad News Bears jersey, no less), started excitedly pointing out “that’s Bettie Page”! I wasn’t the only one! I took great solace in my brief vindication.
Just last week I clicked on a link to Stuart Ng books. This online retailer is selling old paperbacks that just happen to be from the collection of Dave Stevens. Stevens was the phenomenal comic artist who introduced a generation of comic fans, like me, to Bettie Page and Doc Savage in the early 80s.
On NPR the other day, I heard the fascinating story of Ethel Rosenberg’s sons, Michael and Robert. Ethel and her husband Julius were convicted and executed as spies during the Red Scare. Evidence today leads many reasonable people to conclude that she was innocent of passing along atomic secrets to the Soviets. Michael Rosenberg is campaigning for President Obama to exonerate his mother. After reading about the Rosenbergs in Better Dead and hearing the NPR report, it seems reasonable to me.
I borrowed this book from my local library, and that sparked a Christmas Eve conversation with my cousin, Krista. She’s become a voracious reader and talked about she just loved Hoopla, the digital platform for libraries. She’s rattled off a list of comics she’s enjoying that included [[[Paper Girls]]], [[[Lumberjanes]]] and Giant. I’ve been enjoying the service too – and find it to be a fantastic way to augment my local comic shop purchases.
From Roy Cohn, to Bettie Page, to Doc Savage to NPR to Hoopla to Paper Girls. It’s a tangled web and bound to get more tangled-ier in 2017. Have a great year.
P.S.: Someday maybe I’ll tell the story about how I read a Jack London book during finals. What was I thinking? I worry there may be a pattern here….