Thursday, November 29, 2012

Booksteve Reviews-Marvel Comics-The Untold Story by Sean Howe


The new book, MARVEL COMICS-THE UNTOLD STORY, by Sean Howe, is getting a lot of rave reviews and I wish I could add one. I really WANT to rave on this book...but I can't quite justify it.

Don't get me wrong. It's a good book, just not a great book. If you're a Marvel fan I can guarantee you'll learn things you didn't know from this unauthorized history. Those things might, however, leave a bad taste in your mouth.

About ten years ago, I was managing a bookstore. Sales were falling and I was constantly clashing with my District Manager and sidestepping stupid Home Office directives. Some of my employees were great, some were terrible, some were stealing from the company. We knew it, we just hadn't been able to prove it as yet. Others were feuding with each other and not talking at all when scheduled together. Still others were talking too much and not getting anything done. My days off were generally spent on the phone putting out fires at work. 

But at least once a week, someone would come up to me and say in all sincerity, "Wow. I'd love to work here! You guys look like you're having SO much fun!"

As we learn in the book, that's exactly what Marvel has been like pretty much since the beginning!

Publisher/Founder Martin Goodman comes across as a bad guy throughout but if you can distance yourself from the way he treated his employees (or rather had Stan Lee treat them) and his lack of caring about the creative elements of his company, he's really just a businessman, scrambling to stay a little bit ahead, no different than the folks who ran DC, Archie or even LIFE or THE NEW YORK TIMES. He was never in the business  to make art and any that came out of Marvel was purely incidental as far as he was concerned.

Stan Lee comes across as both a major success story and yet an almost tragic figure as he survives the comics industry's various collapses to come out on an unprecedented top with the aid of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other artists whom he seems to have allowed to fall by the wayside as he climbed his climb.

Kirby and Ditko, both written about extensively elsewhere, are, of course, the other two major players in the success of Marvel. The book certainly gives them their due as far as the company's success but Ditko seems somewhat downplayed and Kirby not as massive a presence as he was to the young fans of the Silver Age.

In fact, the book seems to me to zoom through the Golden and Silver Ages rather more quickly than they deserve and then settle into a more detailed, gossipy mode as it moves into The Bronze Age and beyond.

There's very little of any type of analysis here by the author going forward as we get an almost NATIONAL ENQUIRER-style story of bitchy back-stabbings, corporate intrigue, creator egos, drug use, social and political conflicts, misuse of power, greed and other behind-the-scenes intrigue.

I must admit there are several once favorite creators whom I lost respect for after reading parts of this book.

There are so many creators mentioned, however, that some are introduced for just a line or two and a reader unfamiliar with Marvel at the time would be lost. As we move on into the eighties, nineties and beyond, more of the story deals with the buying and selling of Marvel, mainly for its various marketable properties.

The book has numerous small errors that a good fact-checker would have caught such as mis-identifying Superman creator Jerry Siegel as a penciler and miscategorizing a fifties humor title as being a CASPER rip-off when in fact it was a DENNIS THE MENACE rip-off. Overall, these errors don't reflect on the story being told except to make one question the accuracy of some of the other, more important bits as well. Writer Kurt Busiek, for example, mentioned online that a story told about him in the book wasn't quite accurate.

By the way, I am, myself, listed in the acknowledgements. When I saw this, I had to backtrack through my email to remind myself of what I did for the book. Turns out Sean had written me about some old interviews I happily provided.

Perhaps wisely, there are only a couple of photos. Sean has maintained a massive photo presence connected with the book online but in the book itself, they would detract from the story and that's what we want to read.


 Overall, he's done his research, that's obvious, and as I say it is very readable, especially to those of us who saw it from different levels and different ages. I actually do recommend MARVEL COMICS-THE UNTOLD STORY for Marvel fans. It's just that it's a rather bitter candy when one was expecting steak.     

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Congrats to Bookdave!




Just back from David's school and a scheduled meeting between parents and staff regarding the mostly poor statewide scores on a new standardized pre-ACT test they had taken months back. David ACED IT! Missed only 5 questions! Although he's only a sophomore in high school, they're talking college courses by Spring! Other teachers and faculty were coming over to just look at his scores! "Word's spreading," one told us. So proud of him!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Booksteve Reviews-Twitch Upon A Star by Herbie J Pilato


I remember very distinctly being in love with Elizabeth Montgomery by the time I was in second grade. That would have been 1967. I had a friend in my class that year who had a new baby sister and his parents had named her Samantha. BEWITCHED was big everywhere that year.

TWITCH UPON A STAR is the new in-depth biography written by Herbie Pilato. Herbie, too, has loved Elizabeth Montgomery and Samantha all these years. Some time back, that led to his publication of THE BEWITCHED BOOK. Speaking as someone who literally has a bookcase full of books about television series, I will state flat out that THE BEWITCHED BOOK is one of my favorites.

But Herbie wanted to find out even more about Liz--Lizzie as she was called in later years. Out of that desire comes this biography.

If TWITCH does anything, it serves to downplay the magic and humanize its subject. Throughout her public life and career, Lizzie had always somehow managed to remain above the Hollywood fray, maintaining a mystique of absolute beauty, talent and intelligence without a huge amount of gossip. For the most part, she was allowed to keep her private life private.

Starting from a position of unabashed love for his subject, Herbie nonetheless notes in his introduction that he doesn't want to write a whitewashed puff piece. He had himself interviewed the actress for his other book and thus took those talks as a starting point to find the real woman behind the carefully preserved image. To an extent, he succeeds.

Lizzie, for instance, had daddy issues. Big time. Her father was ultra-conservative actor Robert Montgomery (HERE COMES MISTER JORDAN) who, while supportive of his daughter in her early acting career, became increasingly estranged with her over the liberal politics she developed on her own. To her credit, she never spoke ill of him in public but sadly she pretty much stopped speaking TO him as well.

Her fist few husbands were, to one extent or another, dictated by the problems with her father as she sought a surrogate. This was particularly true with actor Gig Young, much older than she and with, amongst other domestic issues, a major drinking problem. While Young's demons would haunt him through a tragic end some years later, Lizzie was able to escape into the arms of Producer William Asher who would become more the nurturing father figure she felt she needed. While the relationship with Asher is dissected in great detail, I would have liked to have seen more about the complexities of her marriage to Young and even her brief first marriage.

Seeing as how it was such a major part of her life, BEWITCHED is covered pretty thoroughly yet again, with the author wisely looking at it this time from a behind the scenes perspective, sharing anecdotes and quotes from and about the many strong personalities who worked on that show. The whole run of the series is paralleled with the Asher/Montgomery marriage and we see it reach great heights before settling into a more blasé existence as that relationship began to crumble.


It's revealed that Liz had an affair with someone who worked behind the scenes on BEWITCHED. With her "perfect" image so ingrained, it was hard for me as a reader to fault her for this. Speculation--and he makes a pretty good, if circumstantial, case for it--of a hushed up drinking problem doesn't much diminish her glow either.

From BEWITCHED, the story bounces right on through her post-sitcom TV career from PASSWORD and MRS. SUNDANCE to the important drama, A CASE OF RAPE and Lizzie's memorable turn as another Lizzie, Lizzie Borden.

We see also her support of gay rights, particularly in support of the forcibly outed second Darren, Dick Sargent. Although closeted, a number of BEWITCHED cast members are now known to have been gay.

She met actor Robert Foxworth while making the TV movie, MRS. SUNDANCE and he broke the father figure/daughter cycle of her relationships. They made a good team and by all accounts were very happy together until her unfortunate passing at much too young an age.

Much of Herbie's narrative comes from published and unpublished interviews with Montgomery herself as well as various friends and fellow performers. Although a lot of interviews with celebs back in the day are spurious, his years as a show biz insider seem to enable him to pick out more grains of truth than not as he pieces together not quite the whole puzzle, but enough to let us see Elizabeth Montgomery in a whole new light. In fact, it's like meeting her all over again for the very first time. I'm a long way from second grade at this point...but after reading TWITCH UPON A STAR, I still love Lizzie! 

If you've ever enjoyed an episode of BEWITCHED, come meet her for yourself.

Monday, November 26, 2012

B Westerns For Cyber Monday

Should you be so inclined to partake of cyber Monday, we'd appreciate it if you'd take a look at our unmatched selection of B Westerns! Odds are if we don't have what you're looking for, it no longer exists! Just about every western genre star from the earliest days of film up through the 1950's is represented, nearly all from the best prints available and many exclusive to us!

Free shipping now through November 30th on orders of $50.00 or more!

 http://oldtimeradiotapes.homestead.com/StevenSiteWesterns.html








Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday!



Okay, so it isn't exactly the same as the "Black Friday" that's all over the news today. Still, Lugosi and Karloff together were always fun and it's a cheap way to get people to the blog today when they Google "Black Friday!" And also it would have been "Uncle Boris's" 125th birthday!







Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Yoe!


Here are the latest books from Craig Yoe. The above was all Craig. No comment. 

COMICS ABOUT CARTOONISTS is a fun book that credits both my wife Rene and myself in the acknowledgements as we all brainstormed ideas for this volume early on. 

Not sure if these will be out in time for Christmas but the top one would go better as a novelty gift for Valentine's Day anyway. 



Monday, November 19, 2012

Blog Updates

Well, it's Thanksgiving week again and I'd like to thank all of you who stop by here and at the other Booksteve Blogs from time to time for doing so. We hope you enjoy what you see.

As have the past few years, this one has been an up and down roller coaster with more than its share of health and financial issues but we're still here and still doing better than many other folks we know as 2012 heads toward 2013.

A couple of the blogs will be finishing up soon. The 1974 Journal blog will conclude at the end of the year. While it's had its fans, it was somehow not as popular as its inspiration, the 1976 blog. Since the only other journal I have is from 1980 and deals with my time in a local comedy troupe, complete with sex and drugs and other stuff I could get sued over, there will be no more journal blogs. They've been a revelation, in many ways showing me how much and yet how little things have changed. I'm glad so many have related to them in a kind of universal way but I'm thinking of taking both 1976 and 1974 down after they conclude.


Meanwhile, DAYS OF ADVENTURE is up to issue 357 already in its more or less daily survey of DC's ADVENTURE COMICS, leaving less than 150 issues to go for the entire original run to have been covered. Thus, that blog will end around tax time this next year.

Our award-nominated FOUR COLOR SHADOWS will continue apace as there is a nearly infinite supply of rare, little-known or just plain interesting stories that deserve resurrection.

Similarly, 1966 has a lot of pop culture ground as yet uncovered so 1966 MY FAVORITE YEAR should continue being updated several times a week. When 2012, ends, 1966 continues!

THE BOOKSTEVE CHANNEL has lined up a potential sponsor (like any good TV show) for 2013 which should gain us some  interesting connections if it goes through. More details to follow.

My Gray Morrow and Wally Wood blogs remain much-needed repositories of the work of these two legendary illustrators on the web and will continue to exist although perhaps not updated as often.

I updated BOOKSTEVE'S BOOKSTORE PLUS the other day with some merchandise I found buried in the back of the closet. The new year should see more frequent updates again as we continue to slowly offer books and collectibles from Booksteve's Library. Thanks to all that purchased from us this past year. There were times where that was our main income in a given month!

Ah, Christa...Our Christa Helm project has not been abandoned although very little has been done on it in 2012. The GOING FOR BROKE blog was set up as a one-stop for all the Christa coverage we'd done elsewhere and it will continue mainly as an archive. Every time cable stations rerun the CBS 48 HOURS MYSTERY on Christa in which Rene and I and John O' Dowd participated--which is about once every other month--traffic on that blog jumps about 1000% for a few days! At some point there may yet be a book--at least an e-book-- but since the case has gone cold again, it will most likely not have an ending.

My 2013 resolution for BOOKSTEVE'S LIBRARY will hopefully be to get back its balance and not have it as much the comics blog as it has become. More music, movies, books and other pop culture!

By the way, if anyone reading this would be interested in advertising with us, I'm told our rates are shockingly low. We've run about a dozen paid ads at this point from about half a dozen advertisers. Contact me at booksteve@ aol.com if you think we'd reach the audience you're trying to reach.

I've received regular comp titles and review copies from Yoe Books, IDW, Abrams, Twomorrows, TCM, Shout Factory, Archie Comics and others over the past couple of years in exchange for reviews. I'd be happy to review your product as well but please note that free copies or not, if I don't care for it, I say so. I can't promise good reviews.

Time constraints have meant that we've slowed down on interviews this past year, too. That's something I'd like to pick up again. I aaaalmost had what might have been a really cool one a few months ago but for various reasons, it never happened.

So anyway, looks like I will be three blogs down in just a few months. And we lost three others in the  last year! What--if anything-- should replace them? And how many? I've got a few ideas but I'd like to hear suggestions. What would you folks like to see from Booksteve?

Again, write me at booksteve@aol.com with questions about advertising, sending review copies or blog suggestions.

 Oh, and those PayPal blog donations always help as well! I've just come through a skin cancer scare and a breast cancer scare and now I have to pay for them telling me I DIDN'T have either. Right hand column near the top should you be so inclined. (Much appreciation to all who have donated recently!)

Thanks and have a HaPpY ThAnKsGiViNg!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Monkees Versions


Mid to late sixties


Late sixties/Early seventies


Early Seventies

Mid Seventies notquitemonkees

  

Mid-eighties-2011


2011-??

Friday, November 16, 2012

Booksteve Art


Hard to believe but I'm actually getting fans for my art. For those who've inquired, it's generally done on Mac Paintbrush and sometimes (but not always) tweaked in various ways in FotoFlexer or IPhoto. They make good PC wallpaper!