• Great Graphic Novels: From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

    GreatgraphicnovelsLast month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) — Mark

    From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

    From hellIt only took me about five seconds to settle upon the graphic novel that has most successfully blown me away: From Hell by Alan Moore (writer) and Eddie Campbell (artist).

    Clocking in at close to 600 pages, this is not a one-evening read, as too many graphic novels are. It is also not the world's loveliest artistic feast. The art is stark black and white scratchy pen-work and I have to say that Eddie Campbell's style is an acquired taste. But it perfectly suits Alan Moore's complex script about the Jack the Ripper killings in London in the 1880s.

    There is plenty of blood spilled as the killings proceed, and the fact that it is all in black ink — not red – helps maintain a certain aesthetic distance from the dirty deeds being done. I think of the book as being drawn in soot, which certainly defined late-Victorian London, where the famous fog was actually smog.

    Long story short: Moore immersed himself in the various conspiracy theories about who Jack the Ripper really was and settled on an amalgamated premise that Jack was really the Queen's physician, William Gull, and the murders were part of a monstrous occult Masonic ritual. The truth was ostensibly covered-up by Masons in positions of power and justice was never rendered.

    This is, I think, a preposterous premise, but it is an engrossing one, nevertheless, and if one just suspends disbelief and allows Moore to sweep one along on his dark horse-drawn carriage ride, there are hours of finely-nuanced entertainment to be had.

    The movie version of From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, was a telegraphed and watered down version of the story that Moore spins. It had its moments, particularly in capturing the spooky atmosphere of late nights in the East End, but if you even half-way enjoyed the movie, you owe it to yourself to read the original graphic novel.

    (Various disclaimers: I became a Mason around the time that From Hell was first published, my wife was Matron of Honour at Alan Moore's and Melinda Gebbie's wedding in Northampton, UK, and we all remain friends. That said, I'd still stand by From Hell as a graphic novel masterpiece, even if I were not a Mason and didn't know Alan Moore from Joe Blow.)

    From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

  • Enthralling Books: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

    This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. — Mark

    Nicholas nickelbyNicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

    An enthralling book, I reckon, is a function of two things: the book's virtues itself and one's opportunity to be enthralled. Back in my high school days, I had enough time on my hands that I could throw myself into a big fat novel and plow my way through it in three or four days (particularly in the summer). I took on most of the best selling potboilers by Irving Wallace, Leon Uris, and James Michener and considered myself reasonably engaged.

    But for true enthrallment, I have to point to that icon of adolescent true-believerhood, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. So help me, I read through my Signet mass paperback edition twice, underlining passages, and taxing the binding to the point that I had to rubberband my copy to keep its pages together. I may have been 16 at the time.

    Is Atlas Shrugged a great book? Not as I see things now. But Ayn Rand had the knack of writing with a total conviction that appealed to teenagers seeking a grand belief system. She was also influenced by (and a defender of) novelists in the vein of Alexander Dumas, and some of this rubbed off on her novels. Engrossing reads, especially for the young.

    But my favorite enthralling book is Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby. I came to Dickens late in life. I had to read Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in high school English classes, but I'd not been won over by either book. Decades later, I came upon a facsimile edition of Dickens' original Nicholas Nickleby's monthly chapter editions, illustrations included, and took a chance. Once I began reading, I was totally sucked in.

    As I later learned, this was from Dickens' early prime period, prior to the death of his wife's sister, on whom he had a secret crush. After her very premature death, Dickens settled into a quasi-tragic mode in his books. But Nicholas Nickleby preceded that. Not that NN isn't full of tragedy and misery, but it is so over-the-top and the descriptions so droll that I found myself laughing out loud at the oddest junctures.

    My enjoyment was enhanced by Phiz's illustrations which capture and drive home the book's overall farcical tone, and by the reproduction of all the ads that ran in the original periodical monthly chapters. (Aromatic Spirits of Vinegar! Labern's Botanic Cream! Eight Day Clocks!) It's a pity that this edition, originally published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1982, is now out of print; it's the next best thing to time travel. As is Nicholas Nickleby, no matter what edition you pick up. If you've never read it, I encourage you to give it a go. You're in for a grand time.

    Buy Nicholas Nickleby on Amazon

  • Mind Blowing Movies: Fantasia (1940) and Eraserhead (1977), by Jay Kinney

    Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. — Mark

    Mind Blowing Movies: Fantasia (1940) and Eraserhead (1977), by Jay Kinney

    [Video Link] I've never been much of a movie buff, to put it mildly. Movies have always affected me so strongly — I've likened it at times to an acid trip, though that is an exaggeration — that I've done well in a given year if I've made it to a theater even twice. My intake via TV and Netflix is slightly better, but hardly robust. In light of this, most movies I've seen still stand out in my memory as singular events.

    There was a brief period, during my art school years in New York at the dawn of the '70s, when I discovered the pleasures of silent German films (particularly those of Lang, Murnau, and Pabst), which were being regularly screened at a repertory house in the West Village. Certainly some of my happiest movie moments were seeing films for the first time like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, M, Dr. Mabuse, Nosferatu, Pandora's Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl.


  • RAW Week: The Gnosis magazine interview

    Back in the late '80s, when Gnosis Magazine was just beginning to find its audience, we were lucky enough to have Robert Anton Wilson as one of our contributors. Over the span of six issues he contributed three major articles and one book review. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm cooled soon after that, as he was miffed that I'd written in a review of his Schrödinger's Cat trilogy that it largely read like outtakes from the Illuminatus! Trilogy. It was my honest opinion, but RAW didn't take kindly to such literary criticism.

    It wasn't until ten years later, in the fall of 1998, that he agreed to appear in Gnosis again, this time in an interview for our 50th issue. Little did we know then that #50 would be the next-to-last issue of the magazine. An unauthorized, OCR'd version of the interview is online, with all the little glitches that often creep in through OCR. Still, Wilson's voice comes through loud and clear, amused and bemused by the perennial question: what is reality?

    [Note: Copies of the back issue of Gnosis #50, in which RAW's interview appeared, are available from Fields Books]

    Here's a link to the unauthorized version of the interview.