Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Booksteve Reviews: Heart Attack and Vine by Phoef Sutton

In the 1970s, there existed a thing called a “mystery movie.”  The mystery movie was neither a television series nor a movie but rather a TV contrivance that allowed for 90 minute (or occasionally two hour) episodes that tended to be of higher quality than most shows of the day. The most famous mystery movie characters were Lt. Columbo, Marshal McCloud, and Commissioner McMillan (and wife). The latter was a modernized and updated version of the classic THIN MAN couple. Like those films, the mystery movies tended to be better written, a tad more literate, generally wittier, and with genuinely interesting mysteries needing to be solved by their heroes. 

HEART ATTACK AND VINE is the closest thing I’ve come across to a mystery movie in decades.

Starring James Garner.

Caleb Rush (aka Crush) is the bouncer/bodyguard hero of Phoef Sutton’s new book but the character’s background and dialogue had me reading him in Jim Rockford’s voice much of the time without even realizing it at first.

One of my favorite things about Phoef’s style here is that he comes to it with an award winning background in Hollywood writing and production so the many pop culture references that dot the book (such as the plot’s maguffin being the prop letters of transit from CASABLANCA) fit naturally and don’t seem shoehorned in.

After years of a rather iffy history of con games and who knows what else on the wrong side of the law, Crush today is attempting to better himself and his life in an almost Zen-like fashion but as often happens in this type of situation, his former life keeps turning up.

The plot twists and winds and turns frequently and even though I’m a veteran at figuring out these types of things, it kept me off-balance right from the beginning. Without giving too much away, an old friend, ersatz sister, and former partner in crime has reinvented herself as a successful movie star. But it’s all part of a big con, a long con, and she wants Crush involved. Even though he tries to stay out of anything too shady, he reluctantly goes along and the game is on.

Rachel, the main female cast member, is a wonderfully delineated character. She is written as a superb contradiction in terms. You know from the beginning you can’t trust her and yet over and over you find yourself trusting her just like Crush even though you know you shouldn’t, and then feeling all the mixed emotions that brings. She will literally do anything to accomplish her goals and yet somehow still comes across as likable.

New Orleans and Hollywood serve as the story’s main settings, detailed more than enough to differentiate the two. We meet the cast and crew of Rachel’s new movie as we learn that her ultimate goal is to marry her director. Unbeknownst to her, however, someone else has a very different con job going on simultaneously, one which eventually gets Crush blamed for murder as the bodies start to pile up.

Again, in the best tradition of the mystery movies, there are unexpected twists on top of unexpected twists as HEART ATTACK AND VINE tensely races toward its conclusion. By the end, I wanted nothing more than to watch the next episode! Since HEART ATTACK AND VINE is actually the second book to feature Caleb Rush, in a way I CAN watch the next episode by backtracking and reading his first appearance in CRUSH.

If you’re a fan of stylish, clever modern mysteries—or 1970s mystery movies—I heartily recommend you do the same. Start in the beginning or start where I did, with HEART ATTACK AND VINE, the most enjoyable mystery novel I’ve read in years.

Booksteve Recommends!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cartoonist Bios From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch-1930

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Yoe Books For the Holidays

I've been proud to be associated with the books of Craig Yoe and Clizia Gussoni in various capacities for 8 years now and 2016--as lousy a year as it's been for so many other reasons--has been a banner year for Yoe Books! Above right you see WALT KELLY'S FAIRY TALES, the winner of this year's prestigious Eisner Award! Next to it is Craig's GREAT TREASURY OF CHRISTMAS COMIC BOOK STORIES from a few years back, which also features Walt Kelly! You can click directly on the titles of either book--as well as the books below--to order now. The ones below--along with the regular hardcover collections of Yoe's POPEYE, HAUNTED HORROR, and WEIRD LOVE comics--are a mixture of recent and upcoming titles, most of which I worked on behind the scenes doing proofreading, research, or some writing. Something for everyone. Please take a look and consider for your gift-giving needs. Thanks!

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 1 is available now!

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 2 is available for pre-order!

The Complete Voodoo Vol 1 and The Complete Voodoo Vol. 2 are both out now and two of my favorites of the horror titles!

A real departure below, this is Ward Sutton's socio-political Onion strip collected as Kelly: The Cartoonist America Turns To™

Jay Disbrow's Monster Invasion              Haunted Love

Behaving Madly                                        Snake Tales

Return of the Zombies                                Horror By Heck

Haunted Horror Pre-Code Coloring Book       Devil Tales

And coming in 2017 from Dark Horse, Reefer Madness Comics!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Vol. 1

Here at last is the book Wood fans have been waiting for for decades...or at least the first part of it. The late Bhob Stewart called me up out of the blue one daya few years back and we had a long conversation about Wood, after which he asked me to contribute to this book--a partial reprint of his previous book, AGAINST THE GRAIN but with much new material and no longer censored as it was in its original publication. Originally I was asked to write about SHOCK SUSPENSESTORIES but that was changed. In another call, Bhob asked me to write about Wally Wood's contributions to the early color MAD and also to its color comics companion, PANIC. I had the Cochran volumes so I spent a couple weeks revisiting EC at its finest and then sat down to write about it all. I sent it on and Bhob said it was exactly what he wanted. I explained that that was just my first draft and that I would like to revise it a bit. He called again to say it was perfect and asked me to send him a bio on myself so I did. Then I never heard back. At all. Until the news of Bhob's death hit barely a month later. It seems he'd been quite ill for some time although I never could have guessed it from our lively phone conversations.

Long before I had any actual contact with him, I had encountered his work throughout nearly my whole life. I was a huge fan of his Topps products in early grade school, I was obsessed with his CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN mag in my teens, I discovered his cheesy movies as a young adult, and admired his place as a comics historian and, in fact, in comics history itself as I grew older and discovered EC. I never would have guessed I'd work with him on what would be his final project.

After Bhob's passing, word eventually came that Fantagraphics would finish the book. As the months dragged on into years, it became two volumes because there was so much good stuff they didn't want to leave any out. And now, finally, it's shipping. Although I have yet to see a copy, I have to presume that with all this attention, this will, in fact, turn out to be the book Bhob Stewart had been working on in a way since the 1950s! The ultimate tribute to Wallace Wood!  

At several points along the way, it was conformed to me that my chapter made it into this first volume. I hope it's good enough to sit beside the contributions of so  many others who admired, knew and/or worked with Wood. I hope it's as good as Bhob Stewart thought it was.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Willard Waterman As the Great Gildersleeve

Willard Waterman had worked steadily in radio for two decades before he picked up the role that would make him famous, and he worked steadily in television, movies, and largely on stage for another two decades afterwards. But for the decade of the 1950s, Willard Waterman WAS--with all due respect to the wonderful Hal Peary--The Great Gildersleeve! Above, Rene and I with Mr. Waterman in 1989, the first of two times we would be privileged to meet and work with him. Rene played Birdie that year in a Gildy re-creation and I would later play Judge Hooker.

Below are a number of clippings, publicity photos, and ads from Waterman's Gildersleeve decade!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016