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11-24-09: Joe Kelly and Deigo Greco Unleash 'Bad Dog' : Comic Books, 1-2-3

Books come to me in all sorts of ways. I wander through the bookstores, I order from a variety of independent online vendors, and of course, publishers send them to me via UPS, Fed Ex and of course, the US Post Office. I knows all my deliverers — and they know me as well. For a while, I've been talking with my mailman Hunter and I drop books on him now and again when I get extras. So I was too surprised when he brought me some comics he thought I'd like — and he was right.

'Bad Dog' (Image Comics ; 2009 ; $3.99, $3.50, $2.99) numbers 1, 2 & 3 will kick you ass and make you laugh out loud. That's what the funnies are supposed to do and 'Bad Dog' delivers nicely. The premise is pure comic book; Lou is a werewolf bounty hunter who hates humans so much, he won’t change into his human form. The woman who loves him wants to see his real face. His partner is Wendell, a short, fat foul-mouthed ex-preacher. Together — well, while they are the vicinity of one another a lot, nobody would describe these two grunts as together. A bounty is just as likely to get hit by an ice ream truck as caught by them. And you're just as likely to see them sitting in a bar as you are to see them mixing it up with bad guys.

A lot of the charm comes from the writing, which is quite generous. Kelly likes his misfits, and better still, he likes Wendell's cursing streaks and knows how to write a Shakespearean swear-o-logue. There's the easy humor of two characters who don’t take the universe they live in seriously, even though it is likely to take them very seriously, to the point of killing them. 'Bad Dog' just has that lived-in, real-world feel even if the world it deals in is strictly comic book. It'll make you laugh. The art is great. There's a nice riff on vampires in number two, with a dismissive nod towards other visions of 'em. There's a head in the refrigerator, a la Bring Me the Head of Alfred Garcia. You know, come to think of it, if Sam Peckinpah were to make a movie about a werewolf bounty hunter, you might get something like this. There's just something about werewolves that seems to inspire writers to bring a level of both seriousness and absurdity to the proceedings. Think back to Robert R. McCammon's Allied spy werewolf in 'The Wolf's Hour.' You kind of get giddy. And, in the case of 'Bad Dog,' a lot of new blue-language riffs to shout out at the drivers who cut you off on the way to work. Justr hope that one of them is not a werewolf.



Subterranean Press Limited
Edition of The Skylark
11-23-09: One Step Closer to 'A Dark Matter' : Peter Straub's Publisher Re-Mix

It's been six months since Subterranean Press sent me their version of Peter Straub's newest novel, titled, 'The Skylark.' At the time, we had no cover art, or, as it happens no actual cover art for either 'The Skylark' or the Random House Re-mix of that novel, titled 'A Dark Matter.'

'A Dark Matter' just arrived and yes, it's a slim book, compared the meaty, wild tome that Subterranean sent so long ago. And I have to say, that yes, it is recognizably a Peter Straub novel and one he should be happy to put his name on. Straub is a smart writer who can make the best of anything. But these are two rather different books. If you want to have a bit of fun, I'd suggest grabbing both, but reading 'The Skylark' first. The extra material matters greatly and makes it to this reader, a better book. Or certainly a better book to read first. In this sort of situation, you only get one chance to read one book first.

The matter of 'The Skylark' and 'A Dark Matter' presents a really interesting challenge for those of us who care about reading. That's because when you're looking at two versions of the same novel, you've stepped beyond the attractions of plot, of finding out what happens. Because anybody who decides to read a book wants to at least find out what happens. And true, finding out what happens is an important part of the reading experience, important enough to me, at least, so that I try to talk about books not in terms of what happens, but in terms of how it feels to read the book. But at the end of the day, the reading experience is about a lot more than finding out what happens. It's about the immersion in a world of text, about the inscrutable process of looking at words to immerse in a world. That's why you can re-read the best books, because you can walk around in that world again and notice something different. You know what happens – the pleasure comes in that conversion process, words to worlds.

Random House Trade Edition
So here we have two versions of the same world. Or visions, really, and to tell the truth, that's really a pretty cool deal for readers. You get the best of both worlds. You can re-read a book and yet, not be re-reading the book. That's why I say that readers should buy both versions. Now, this is true even when the text is the same. For example, reading the Subterranean Press version of 'The Shadow of the Wind' is a very different experience from reading the trade hardcover version. The same is true for Tim Powers' 'Last Call' in the Ace trade hardcover and the Charnal House limited. It just feels different.

With 'The Skylark' and 'A Dark Matter' you have substantially different texts and wildly different feels. 'The Skylark,' being substantially wilder, manages to offer a lighter touch, an absurd sense of humor that simultaneously makes the darks darker, and freights the whole enterprise with a sense of frightening uncertainty. 'A Dark Matter' will seem more familiar to Straub's larger audience. There's an undeniable power in Straub's self-edit, an almost murderous resolve. There's an old saying that writers must murder their favorite babies, the parts of their own novels that they like best, in order to make the novel the best it can be. There's no follow-up that says they have to like murdering their babies. When Straub re-focused on the events of 'The Skylark' to create 'A Dark Matter', he essentially had to murder a lot of babies, and the concentration required for that kind of killing spree could easily cast a spell over the result — and the readers of that result.

In a sense then, in this silly situation with two substantially different versions of the same book, everyone's a winner. Those who self-select the Subterranean Press version will have the purer, wilder experience coming out of the gate. I guess, in a sense, 'The Skylark' is the unhinged adolescent version of 'A Dark Matter.' When we who read 'The Skylark' first grow up, we can read 'A Dark Matter' and reflect back on our wild youth, so to speak, immerse ourselves not in that world again, but in our memories of first experiencing that world. The majority of readers who pick up 'A Dark Matter' first have a very different delight that hovers in the realm of possibility. Should they care to impose a sort of "mid-life crisis" on those events, it awaits them in 'The Skylark.' They'll have to look hard to find it, but it will be well worth the search. Here's a reading situation where you can read the same book twice; but you won’t be the same person, and it need not be the same book.



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