Mary Belton

Mary Belton has been writing for Boing Boing since 1993.

Cruddy – A dark, ominous and hilarious tale about a 16-year-old’s cruddy trip through life

If you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for a novel that speaks to the homicidal teenage girl on acid inside of you. Well, today you are in luck, unless you’ve already read this 1999 masterpiece by artist/writer/teacher/goddess Lynda Barry.

Best known for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which ran in many weekly alternative papers in the 1980s and '90s, Barry creates characters that are simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. In Cruddy, 16-year-old narrator Roberta Rohbeson lives in poverty, “on a cruddy street, on the side of a cruddy hill in the cruddiest part of a crudded-out town in a cruddy state, country, world, solar system, universe.” As the story begins, Roberta has been grounded for a year due to getting caught “tripping on drugs very badly.” In one long journal entry/suicide note, Roberta composes the “famous book” she plans to leave behind: the recounting of a road trip with her violent, alcoholic father, which leaves a trail of death and destruction and concludes with Roberta stranded on a desert highway, her trusty knife Little Debbie as her only companion.

Although Barry departed from her usual cartoon format, the ominous black and white drawings she includes throughout beautifully enhance this dark tale. Nice touches are the illustrated endsheets, which are maps detailing both Roberta’s cruddy hometown and the route of her and her father’s horrifying crime spree, er, family vacation.

Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel by Lynda Barry

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Starstruck – over a decade’s worth of celebrity snapshots by an obsessive fan

I don’t know what is more fascinating, the images or the accompanying anecdotes included in this collection of amateur snapshots taken from 1966-1980. Photographed with a paparazzi’s determination and a fan’s adoration, these portraits are intimate, touching, hilarious, and sometimes out of focus.

Gary Lee Boas’ obsession with celebrities, which began at age 15, led him to wait for hours in front of stage doors, hotels and nightclubs to capture everyone from actors to musicians to astronauts to politicians, including the famous, the future-famous, and the once-famous. The juxtaposition of the photographs (sometimes absurd) adds to the pleasure of leafing through this colorful book: Henry Kissinger coupled with Lee Majors, John Wayne with Billy Barty, Marilyn Chambers with Nelson Rockefeller. The frequent inclusion of non-celebrity onlookers in the pics (proto-photobombers?) adds to the fun – especially in the photograph of Miss Universe.

Starstruck: Photographs From a Fan, by Gary Lee Boas

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Gritty photos that reveal Hollywood’s seedy history

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Fans of photojournalist Weegee will love this gritty collection of photographs, which was culled from the archives of William Randolph Hearst’s infamous tabloid newspaper. Known for sensationalized reporting punctuated by attention-grabbing pictures, the Herald Express was founded in 1931 and remained on the stands for thirty years. Sidelining national and international events, the paper featured local stories of crime and scandal including drug busts, murder, freak accidents, and all manner of “depravity.”

The photographs included in Local News are divided into chapters bearing titles such as, “Murderers,” “Victims,” “Scene of the Crime,” “Hold-up Suspects,” and “Cross-Dressers.” Each image tells a true LA noir story and the brief captions included are often just as shocking and strange as the pictures they accompany: “Dragged into court, called insane,” “Big man plays bookie in tiny cubicle,” “Shoes, necklace found on dead body,” and “Girl is freed after explaining why she wore Marine uniform trousers after drinking party.” As a native of Los Angeles who is interested in its seedy history, true crime, and all that is weird, I wish I didn’t already own this book so I could run out and buy it today.

Local News: Tabloid Pictures from the Los Angeles Herald Express 1936-1961

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