And Then I Read: JIMMY OLSEN #4

Image © DC Comics. Written by Matt Fraction, art by Steve Lieber,
colors by Nathan Fairbairn, letters by Clayton Cowles.

I don’t think Jimmy has ever been funnier than in the opening page of this issue where he’s doing an awful livestream as “Timmy” Olsen that pranks superheroes and politicians. Meanwhile, Lois Lane has joined Jimmy in Gotham City as he tries to explain just what a mess he’s in and why. As in previous issues, this one is broken up into shorter segments, and I’m not even sure they’re in chronological order, but it’s probably funnier if they’re not. This run of JO has very entertaining writing by Matt Fraction that at times reminds me of Deadpool, what little I’ve seen of that, and his Jimmy is really whacko, especially compared to the grounded and serious Lois. Despite that, some of Jimmy’s story is beginning to make more sense to me, crazy as it sounds. Steve Lieber’s art is just as entertaining and creative.

Fun stuff, recommended.

And Then I Read: NOBODY’S FOOL by Bill Griffith

I’ve seen Bill Griffith’s syndicated comic strip “Zippy the Pinhead,” but have never read it regularly. In the strip, Zippy is a strange character whose utterances don’t make a lot of sense, but do somehow have memorable resonance. One of his catch phrases, “Are we having fun yet?” has entered common usage.

This book by Griffith is not about Zippy, it’s about the real person who inspired him. Schlitzie was a microcephalic child, characterized by a very small brain area and a skull that came to a point, a condition cruelly nicknamed “pinhead” at the time of his birth around 1901. His actual origins are not known for sure, Bill Griffith places his birthplace in The Bronx. Schlitzie’s intelligence level never grew beyond that of a four-year-old, and his parents were poor, so his future did not look promising. It was likely he would have eventually been institutionalized. Instead, his parents sold him to a sideshow manager, and he remained a sideshow attraction, working under many different names, for most of his seventy year life. Sideshows were collections of people considered freaks of nature, those with physical handicaps or odd anatomy, or sometimes people with unusual abilities like sword-swallowers or strongmen. They were a popular sideline for circuses at the time, and also existed on their own at places like Coney Island.

Griffith’s biography of Schlitzie is both fascinating and surprising. Though the boy and man went through some difficult times occasionally, mostly he seems to have enjoyed his life and enjoyed performing, and he often found friends and workmates that cared for him, and kept him out of trouble, including one manager that made him part of the family. Schlitzie’s biggest fame came from his appearance in the 1932 horror film “Freaks,” directed by Tod Browning, where much of the cast were actual sideshow freaks, though Schlitzie had only a small role.

Is this book a sort of apology? Possibly. Griffith clearly put a lot of time and effort into it, and does not shy away from his own role in the story, though it’s a minor one. Well worth your time, and recommended.

The Danny Crespi Files Part 20

This and all images © Marvel.

We’ve reached the final part of this series, showing the last three pages that include cover lettering, and one bonus page. About 20 more pages came with the original photocopies from letterer Phil Felix, a friend and workmate of Danny’s, but they contain mostly logos by other people and I won’t be covering them here. (If I knew for sure which of them were by Danny I would cover those, but none are credited, and it’s a lot harder to guess styles with logos than with cover lettering.) This collection was compiled by Phil while he was on staff at Marvel, and it represents a great resource for people like me who are interested in who lettered Marvel covers, something Danny did a lot of from about 1974-1979. Above is page 77 which is all lettered by Danny. Sources follow.

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And Then I Read: THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH by Philip Pullman

Cover art © Chris Wormell

The first part of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, “The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage,” was the best book I read in 2017, and I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since. While not as thrilling as the first book, it did not disappoint.

Pullman began writing about the world and characters herein in 1995 with a prior trilogy with the overall title “His Dark Materials.” The first book, “The Golden Compass” in the U.S., “Northern Lights” elsewhere, introduced the character Lyra, a young girl living at a college in Oxford, essentially on her own, but cared for by the entire college staff. This was an Oxford in a parallel world with many differences, the most striking being that every person has a sort of animal familiar that is both a separate being and part of the person at the same time. In childhood, the companion is changeable, trying out different animal forms, eventually becoming settled on one by the time the person reaches adulthood. The companion animals often represent or echo the personalities of their humans in some way. They talk to and provide company for each human, but can also talk to other companion animals and humans. Their lives are closely tied to their humans, but also somewhat separate. Lyra’s companion, a marten named Pantalaimon, is an important part of the first trilogy, the plot of which includes people being separated from their companions with devastating results for both, and Lyra’s attempt to stop it. That takes Lyra to other parallel worlds, including one where she must separate herself from Pantalaimon, something both found horrible.

“La Belle Sauvage” takes place twelve years before “His Dark Materials,” when Lyra was an infant, and focuses on a boy, Malcolm Polstead, and his attempts to protect baby Lyra from those who want to imprison and use her for their own ends. The book’s second half is an epic journey through a flooded England in Malcolm’s canoe (the name of which is the book title) with Malcolm’s friend Alice and baby Lyra pursued by a villainous man, Gerard Bonneville.

Surprisingly, “The Secret Commonwealth” opens about twenty years later, and about ten years after the events told in “His Dark Materials.” Lyra is now a student at Jordan College, where she grew up, but she knows nothing about the events of “La Belle Sauvage.” Malcolm is a teacher at the college, but has not told her their history, nor has Alice, who also works at the college. Sadly, relations between Lyra and her animal companion Pantalaimon are strained and unhappy. The two can’t seem to get along anymore, always arguing and fighting over ideas Lyra has come to embrace about magic and animal companions. Nor has Pantalaimon ever quite forgiven her for their brief separation. Because of it, Pantalaiman and Lyra can spend time apart, and while out one night alone, Pantalaimon witnesses a murder near the college. He and Lyra retrieve information hidden by the murdered man which leads to trouble and danger for both of them. While they are in hiding at Malcolm’s parents’ inn, they have their worst fight ever, and Pantalaiman leaves Lyra to head off on his own. Lyra is soon on a journey as well, away from those who would arrest her in Oxford toward a mysterious place in the middle east. Malcolm is also soon headed that way, as is Pantalaimon. The separate journeys of the three, and the growing unrest and violence in that part of the world over, of all things, oil made from roses, make up the majority of the book.

The only bad thing about this novel is that, like many middle trilogy books, it takes us deep into trouble without delivering much resolution. That must come from the third book of the trilogy, which will probably arrive no sooner than another two years. Otherwise, this was an excellent read, and is highly recommended. Now I want to reread “His Dark Materials” to see what further connections I might find there to this story. If you haven’t done that in a while, it might be a good idea to reread those first before this one.

And Then I Read: THE GHOST, THE OWL by Franco & Sara Richard

Image © Franco & Sara Richard. Lettering by Marshall Dillon.

In appearance this large but slim hardcover seems to be a picture book for young children, but inside is a 48-page comic with themes that young children might not understand or find frightening.

An owl becomes friends with the ghost of a girl child. Other birds tell the owl to ignore her, but he decides to speak to her instead. The ghost does not remember her origin or even understand that she is a ghost, and together they try to find out more of her history. The search takes them to the home of a young woman who is being threatened by an imposing, angry man who wishes to hurt her for rejecting him. The ghost and the owl try to help the woman, each in their own way.

Not a bad story, but I had an issue with the art. The owl and other birds are depicted very realistically while the ghost seems rather cartoony and manga-like, making their interactions seem strange and not very convincing. The adult man and woman are somewhere between the two.

Mildly recommended.