Watching THE HOBBIT, THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

HobbitArmiesIf I was required to pick one book from the thousands in my home and the thousands more I’ve read as my favorite of all time, it would be “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s been so since I first read it around age twelve, and I’ve reread it dozens of times since. While I did not initially warm to Peter Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings,” I came around to it and now like it a lot, so of course seeing all three Hobbit films was a must. Having found a place in my head for Jackson’s version of Tolkien, I was able to enjoy and appreciate his version of “The Hobbit,” even though there’s so much in it that’s not in the book. A lot of that is, I think, a matter of creating a blockbuster action film, but even more, of introducing things he and his writing team wanted to see more of and more about.

It reminds me of fan fiction in a way, like “wouldn’t it be cool if, amid the madness, a dwarf and an elf-maiden fell in love,” or “what if the orcs had giant digging worms like the Sandworms in Dune,” or “let’s see the battle between the wizards and The Necromancer.” Some of these ideas are easier to go along with than others, I admit I liked the last one. Even Tolkien himself did some tinkering with his story after the first edition saw print to deepen the connections to “Lord of the Rings,” as evidenced in his introductory note in my edition from the 1960s. And of course it was a given that Peter Jackson’s version would have lots of action and lots of fighting, especially in this last film. It’s surprisingly non-gory action, but still very violent, and strays far from Tolkien, even when it’s kind of cool, as in the feats of Legolas, who of course isn’t in Tolkien’s “Hobbit” at all.

Despite all that extra stuff, the main points of the book are covered pretty well, I thought. And Peter Jackson’s version of Middle Earth is, in my view, a pretty cool place to visit, even if it’s not that much like Tolkien’s. Looking at my well-worn copy of the book, the one with Tolkien’s actual signature tucked into the flap, I see that the  Battle of the Five Armies is covered in one chapter of twelve pages. It’s about half the film. I did appreciate the many character moments in the film, even some of the ones not in the book, and could have done without so much fighting, but maybe that’s just me. In all, I enjoyed this and all the Jackson films. I think I liked the Hobbit ones less than the LOTR ones, but I did like them. It’s not something I would bring a kid to, let them read the book, and find the films later would be my plan, but I don’t have kids of my own, so I’m not sure how realistic that is.

The end of the film is not as satisfying as the end of the LOTR films, because Jackson has spent so much time connecting his Hobbit to those films, and as viewers, we know there’s lots more trouble coming for Bilbo and the Hobbits, so that’s a little disappointing, but I suppose if you wanted to watch them all in chronological order, it makes sense. I know I’ll go back to the book again, and find more enjoyment in that in the long run, but the things accomplished in the films will also stick with me.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: AQUAMAN AND THE OTHERS 7

AquaOthers7Image © DC Comics, Inc.

This title is headed into an espionage thriller, dealing with foes that are ex-KGB with powers. It’s an action-filled plot with lots of twists and turns, but I find it a little hard to see what Aquaman is doing here. In fact, he’s not here much, just doing a fly-in rescue. The previous storyline had Atlantis connections, this one seems rooted in Tom Cruise blockbuster territory, and not much water in sight. The writing and art are fine, but no one stands out in the rest of the team, there are no personalities to draw me in and get me involved. Having read this a few weeks ago, I now find it hard to remember the storyline, not a good sign.

Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: SWAMP THING 36

ST36Image © DC Comics, Inc.

Machine intelligence. It seems almost as natural an enemy to The Green and its avatar, Swamp Thing as The Rot. The opening salvo with Swamp Thing aflame even threatens his new allies in The Green, Jonah and Capucine, but the machines still have a lot to learn about Alec Holland. Unfortunately, they’re fast learners. Alec pays a visit to the avatar of The Rot, another old ally, for some touching moments, while the machines go about choosing their own avatar from among many familiar candidates. A good issue, I’m continuing to enjoy writer Charles Soule and artist Jesus Saiz’ work on this title. It keeps going in interesting and surprising places.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: LITTLE NEMO, DREAM ANOTHER DREAM

NemoCoverI worked on this huge book, that’s my logo on the cover, and I lettered about a dozen of the more than 140 pages of comics inside, so I am not an unbiased reader, but I find it a remarkable achievement both artistically and conceptually. Even Leo, above, finds it worthy of an action pose! Measuring 16 by 21 inches, each page is the size that the original “Little Nemo in Slumberland” Sunday comic strips ran when Winsor McCay was producing them early in the 20th century. Many people feel that McCay achieved a pinnacle of visual comics art that has not been equalled since, but Locust Moon Books invited dozens of their favorite artists to try.

NemoSpreadWhile each artist did something relating to the original comic strip, the approaches are as varied as the individual imaginations of all those creators, and it’s remarkable how little similarity there is among them as far as the actual content. Yes, many did artistic homages to McCay’s own Nemo style, but equally as many went their own ways. A few artists used more than one page to tell their tale, but most used a single large page. You can call it a themed anthology, but the experience is a bit more like walking through an art gallery, as the entries are so different, yet contain a common theme. The ones I liked best told an actual story in panels, often numbered sequentially as McCay did, but even there the creators were very clever and playful, with some leading the reading in very unexpected directions. There are many artists represented I know nothing about, but also quite a few I recognized, including a few friends I wasn’t expecting, always a nice thing. The printing and production is stellar, and on a personal note, I have to say I’ve never seen a logo of mine reproduced as large as it is inside this volume. The entire reading experience brings out the child in me, the book is so large, it made me feel small again, in a good way.

If you’ve seen any of the books put out by The Sunday Press, it’s a very similar format, but this is the first book I’ve seen using it for new material. And what truly wonderful material it is!

Highly recommended.

Remembering Mrs. Helen Thompson

Thompson1961Mrs. Helen Thompson, center, with students, in a photo from The Somerset Hills Exponent, May 25, 1961.

I’ve written about my favorite teacher from the Bedminster Township grade school twice before, a little in my article on our school newspaper and magazine, which she ran, and more in my article on the school itself. Mrs. Thompson taught English to my brothers and I in grades 6-8, and we all worked on the school publications doing art and, in my case, writing stories. I remember her as smart, entertaining in class, and very encouraging to me as a young artist and writer. Others remember that she was also a heavy smoker, and I’ve long wondered about how that might have affected her career and life. New information has come to light recently, so I thought I’d share it here.

While I spent lots of time with Mrs. Thompson in and after class, I knew nothing about her personal life except what little ran in the 1965 graduation issue of The Bed-Post, as part of a guessing-game called “Spotlight on People.” Mrs. Thompson was the subject of this entry:

ThompsonSpotlightWhile I saw Mrs. Thompson occasionally when I had moved on to High School in Bernardsville, NJ (when my school bus would stop at the Bedminster School to pick up more students), I lost touch with her at some point in that time. Recently my youngest brother Russ found some copies of the school publications from his grades 6-8 in 1968-70, and entries there filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge. from The Bedminster Tribune of Oct. 27, 1969:

ThompsonBestWishesAs you can see, Mrs. Thompson was out sick in the fall of 1969. I have no information on what the illness may have been, but I suspect that she did not return to the school. In the Spring, 1970 issue of The Bed-Post, this editorial by Ellen Burden appeared:

ThompsonDedicAs you might guess, Mrs. Thompson had passed away before the issue saw print, and with help from Patricia Bankowski, I now have her obituary from March 19, 1970:

Helen Thompson Obit 03191970I may have heard about this from my parents at the time, but if so, I had forgotten it, so it’s good to have that long-lingering question of what happened to Mrs. Thompson answered. The issue of The Bed-Post this appeared has replaced Mrs. Thompson’s long-standing credit as Advisor with “Acting Advisor: Mrs. Stout,” and the following year the Advisor credit went to a new English teacher at the school, Mr. Melovitz.

As noted in the obituary, Mrs. Thompson had no children. Her husband, J. Miller Thompson continued to live in Bedminster, and died in 1992 after remarrying a Mary E. Nevius, who died in 2000.