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Archives: July 2006

The Exciting World of WebComics

penny-arcade2.jpgWhen I was at Comic-Con a few weeks ago, I decided one morning that I would try to see what was going on with webcomics, strips that reach their primary audience online. Well, okay, I was “inspired” by the huge booth where the guys from Penny Arcade were briskly selling print collections, T-shirts, even documentary DVDs as Mike Krahulik (left) spent the weekend drawing on his tabletop—the sort of business you can pull when you’re attracting, as their Wikipedia entry claims, two million daily page views. But they weren’t the only webcomic artists around, so I decided to see who else I could find.

mister-toast.jpgDan Goodsell (right) had scored a booth right around the corner from the official Peanuts concession, which brought a lot of foot traffic. By the time I spoke to him Saturday morning, he’d already sold 150 of these toy versions of his character, Mr. Toast. He’s been drawing and painting Mr. Toast and friends for years, but it’s the website, launched in 2002, which really seems to have helped Goodsell find an audience for his work. A couple aisles over, Dave Kellett had copies of Pure Ducky Goodness, the first collection from his webcomic Sheldon, for sale at his booth. “I’m giving away the daily comic strips (and full archives) for free, which encourages fandom and word-of-mouth marketing and viral distribution,” he cheerfully explained. “Then, once a comic strip like mine atrracts an audience of 10,000 or more readers, it’s been shown time and again that such a strip can reliably sell self-published books to 10 percent of that audience.” He’s thrilled to be reaching his audience without intermediation, and with a second collection due in the fall, Kellett anticipates that he might be able to cut back on his other jobs and draw the strip full time within 2-3 years. “In light of the death of newspapers among younger demographics,” he concluded, “it’s a pretty exciting time to be a comic strip writer.”

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James Ellroy to Thomas Wolfe: Screw You

James Ellroy mines his Los Angeles past yet again, this time for a feature in the LA Times Sunday magazine, West, in which he describes some of the details of his “three-year crack-up” brought on by “long transits of overwork and emotional seepage held in check by near-insane ambition.” The prose is typically breathless Ellroy:

“The perceived L.A. was the square workday world that most people considered real. The real L.A. was crime and sex and outré pathology. L.A. was a force field. L.A. attracted squares. They formed the population bulk and camouflaged the fiends. The benign L.A. climate and egalitarian vibe were a shuck. The real L.A. migration was a mass yearning for human blood. The ice cream man was a child molester. The kindly cop was a rapist. The starlet was a syphilitic whore. Malign messages swirled in smog particles, detectable only by me. I possessed X-ray eyes.”

All your favorite Ellroy tropes are included—murdered mom, Black Dahlia, small-time junky exploits, bottoming out then building himself to write his first novel—but this time he includes more about the nervous breakdown that undercut promotional efforts for The Cold Six Thousand five years ago…and now that he’s better, he says, he’s coming home: “I want to live here, I want to work here, I want to end my days here. I want the all-new and wholly familiar stimulation that only L.A. provides. I want to reclaim L.A. with a revitalized and mature imagination.”

Give F. Paul Wilson His Next Plot!

F. Paul Wilson has crafted a series of novels around “Repairman Jack,” a one-man supernatural A-Team, or, as his website puts it: “He dwells in the interstices of modern society, has no official identity, no social security card, pays no taxes. When you need help and you’ve lost faith in the system, or the system itself is the problem, you go to a guy outside the system. That’s Jack.” Ten demon-filled novels later, Wilson’s turning to fans to add the next twist with a “Stump Repairman Jack” contest that offers $1,000 to the lucky reader who comes up with the problem Wilson thinks would most genuinely challenge his protagonist—in fact, if he uses it in the eleventh book, the winner will even appear as a character.

To make things easier, Forge is offering a special deep discount on two earlier books in the series, The Tomb and All the Rage, that also includes a $4 coupon for Harbingers, which hits bookstores in September.

Rejecting the Gray Flannel Suit for Literary Tweed

mblogo.jpg_MG_2303.jpgOur sisterblog, mbToolbox, scores an interview with James P. Othmer and learns how the former Young & Rubicam creative director worked his advertising background to his advantage in the reviews for his debut novel, The Futurist: “The ex ad-guy angle probably got me a lot more press, because the middle-aged white guy writes a book angle isn’t the most differentiating way to position a supposedly literary novel.” He also discusses how the novel went from a first chapter published in the Virginia Quarterly Review (where it landed a National Magazine Award nomination for fiction) to a completed manuscript:

“A few days after it came out, agents began to call me rather than me scratching at their doors. Then a friend directed me to David Gernert, who loved the early pages and, more importantly, seemed to get me and what I was trying to do better than anyone else ever had… I cranked on the last third of the book. David sent it out on a Wednesday and we had three offers by Thursday morning. And the edit. Pessimist that I am, I was all set to get my back up the air and take a stand against the horrible suggestions that were to come (advertising prepared me well for this), but Bill Thomas at Doubleday wrote me this brilliant letter, six or seven single-spaced pages that praised the book and then suggested what we might want to do to make it better. Shockingly, I agreed with almost everything Bill said.”

The publishing equivalent of Madlibs?

Or at least, an honest-to-goodness blind item in the form of a book so embargoed that HarperCollins doesn’t want you to know who wrote it and what the subject matter’s about. The publicity one-sheet to booksellers (which appears in full after the jump) did at least give a publishing date (September 12) a print run (300,000) and a category (non-fiction, though Ingram further revealed that it could be shelved as Biography & Autobiography and Childhood Memoir—which leads Ron to suspect it’s got something to do with somebody connected to Michael Jackson, and not in a good way.)

All will (allegedly) be revealed on August 10, but after reading what’s being sent out to bookstores – who are supposed to order based on what, exactly? – feel free to chime in with your own guesses, serious or not.

UPDATE: Ed Champion makes the case for Michael Moore, but one tipster refutes this, sending in a reminder that he has one more book (a memoir) under contract with Warner — not to mention that “[his] split with HarperCollins was very acrimonious, and he bashed them in DUDE, WHERE’S MY COUNTRY”…

Read more

Brick Lane Drives Wedge Between Writers

The controvery surrounding the Brick Lane movie has turned into a genuine literary feud, as Salman Rushdie takes his best shot at Germaine Greer. It all started when Greer lent support to Monica Ali’s detractors by suggesting that the “defining caricatures” of the Bangladeshi characters in Ali’s novel were a symptom of how she’s sold out her ethnic peers for acceptance by the English and that “Bangladeshi Britons would be better off not reading—or, when it comes out, seeing the film of—Brick Lane.” Well, says Rushdie, that’s just “a strange mixture of ignorance…and pro-censorship twaddle,” and he’s not a bit surprised…because Greer pulled the exact same shit when The Satanic Verses came out.

As this is all playing out in the pages of The Guardian, their own Paul Lewis provides some context for the Greer-Rushdie dustup, and notes that Greer may be preparing for the next round. He also offers up a fascinating tidbit: the two were classmates at Cambridge in the late ’60s.

Getting rich, the Felix Dennis way

To say that there isn’t anyone quite like the magazine baron responsible for Maxim (and thus, its many knockoffs) would be an understatement. But the Bookseller’s Joel Rickett was caught seriously off-guard while interviewing the man in advance of his first book, HOW TO GET RICH, which Random House UK publishes at the end of next month. “You’re obviously an intelligent person, so why are you a wage slave? Why are you making the owners of The Bookseller rich?” he says to Rickett. “I’m being facetious, but why people work for somebody else is a source of continual astonishment to me.”

There are lots of reasons, and Dennis catalogues his failures, his excesses and and personal costs in his new book, which he pitches as an “anti self-help tome.” “If you do all the things in this book, there’s no question that you will become wealthy,” Dennis says. “But this idiotic quest requires a great deal of self-sacrifice–and it isn’t always you doing the sacrificing. I’ve produced no grandchildren for my mother because I was always too busy making more money than I could spend. It’s pathetic. So this book is a road map that tells you at various stations the price you are about to pay.”

Though if it were up to Dennis, he would have quit while he was ahead – making oh, about 40 million pounds or so – and stuck to poetry (as Ebury will publish his third collection, WHEN JACK SUED JILL, in November.)

NYC Writers Reading for Peace

“A friend emailed me from California: TURN ON CNN. HAIFA IS BEING BOMBED,” recalls author Leora Skolkin-Smith. “From then on, my shock and sickness didn’t come from watching the places I walked as a child burn and explode, but from witnessing the relentless aggression on both sides—the slow and deadly destruction of Beirut, the victims in Lebanon—those faces who were once my family’s best friends.” Skolkin-Smith grew up in Haifa, and many of her members of her family who had lived in Palestine before the creation of Israel had been educated in Lebanon, so the war was intensely upsetting to her. “This is so painful for the generations that know the truth,” she says, “that these countries are divided against one another not from desire or hate, but because of larger forces.”

Resolved to do something to call attention to the problem, Skolkin-Smith got in touch with her friend, fellow writer M.J. Rose, and asked for advice. How could she put together a reading without seeming self-promotional (especially since her novel, Edges, is set in Israel and Palestine)? Rose suggested that none of the authors at the event read from their own work; instead, when the fifteen participants gather at SoHo’s McNally-Robinson bookstore on September 18, they’ll be reading from other people’s writing about war and its consequences. Readers include Robb Forman Dew, Masha Hamilton, and Binnie Kirshenbaum, with organizational help from Grace Paley and Sue O’Doherty. Profits from the evening’s sales, as well as additional donations collected at the event, will benefit Seeds of Peace, a non-profit which helps teenagers who live in conflict zones learn to reconcile with their peers.

NYTBR Embraces Collapse of Genre Distinctions

Pleasing as Gary Kamiya’s review of Scott Smith’s The Ruins is—since, unlike Michiko Kakutani, Kamiya knows better than to reveal key plot secrets in a review—it raises an interesting question. “The Ruins is superior horror literature, but it does not entirely overcome the pile-driving limitations of the genre,” Kamiya writes. “But its relentless bleakness—it is almost clinically bloody—played out at novel length is also what sets it apart from other books of this kind.”

Well, wait a minute: Didn’t the Review just appoint Terrence Rafferty the horror fiction columnist? So why isn’t he covering The Ruins? Then again, maybe the novel’s such perfect evidence of the literary merit of genre fiction—on the principle that Knopf, like God, doesn’t make no junk—that it renders genre-based criticism superfluous. Heck, that might explain why Nick Sagan’s Everfree is discussed in a collection of short fiction reviews rather than being delegated to the paper’s usual science fiction reviewer. If so, it’s a welcome trend—maybe they’ll embrace high fantasy in time to review the next George R.R. Martin novel!

Speaking of timeliness, though, we rib the NYTBR a lot for lagging behind the rest of the culture, so it’s nice to be able to commend Rachel Donadio’s essay on The Long Tail, which calls upon a few publishing executives to explain why backlists matter and why the “long tail” isn’t necessarily the publishing industry’s best friend. Question: Does this mean the Review won’t be reviewing the book? Not that it matters much. I just checked Google, and the Times has already used the phrase “long tail” roughly 500 times, and only a handful of them about cats. You might say the concept has reached its tipping point.

Hemingway’s Ghost a Crazy Cat Lady?

The Associated Press reported late last week about a controversy brewing at Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home—the place is overrun with cats. “More than 50 descendants of a multi-toed cat the novelist received as a gift in 1935 wander the grounds of the home,” the dispatch tells us, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that requires the caretakers to get a license. Facing potential daily fines of $200 a cat (more than $10,000), the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum has decided to take their case to federal court, where they hope to either legitimate their claim not to be under the jurisdiction of the Animal Welfare Act or find out exactly how many cats they’ll be allowed to keep in order to get a license. Should Florida literati who also happen to be cat lovers be on the lookout for new adoptees? Time and a U.S. District judge will tell…