Archive for the ‘books’ Category


Here You Will See Me Stealing Gary Larson’s Work

December 29, 2010

A Note from Gary Larson

Re: Online use of Far Side cartoons

To whom it may concern:
I’m walking a fine line here.
On the one hand, I confess to finding it quite flattering that some of my fans have created web sites displaying and / or distributing my work on the Internet. And, on the other, I’m struggling to find the words that convincingly but sensitively persuade these Far Side enthusiasts to “cease and desist” before they have to read these words from some lawyer.
What impact this unauthorized use has had (and is having) in tangible terms is, naturally, of great concern to my publishers and therefore to me — but it’s not the focus of this letter. My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control.
Years ago I was having lunch one day with the cartoonist Richard Guindon, and the subject came up how neither one of us ever solicited or accepted ideas from others. But, until Richard summed it up quite neatly, I never really understood my own aversions to doing this: “It’s like having someone else write in your diary,” he said. And how true that statement rang with me. In effect, we drew cartoons that we hoped would be entertaining or, at the very least, not boring; but regardless, they would always come from an intensely personal, and therefore original perspective.
To attempt to be “funny” is a very scary, risk-laden proposition. (Ask any stand-up comic who has ever “bombed “on stage.) But if there was ever an axiom to follow in this business, it would be this: be honest to yourself and — most important — respect your audience.
So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am.
I hope my explanation helps you to understand the importance this has for me, personally, and why I’m making this request.
Please send my “kids” home. I’ll be eternally grateful.
Most respectfully,

Gary Larson

  • Note: I know how he feels, because people keep talking about the Turds of Misery. Also, now kids know who Gary Larson was.

Books You Should Read, Baby

November 2, 2010


WS1 Rerun: The Straw Men

May 27, 2010

This originally appeared in November 2008. I still recommend these books, although the film never happened. There is a comic book; it’s pretty good, if not my cup of black tea. The trilogy of books should be read by all horror or crime novel fans. They’re that good.

Do you believe in synchronicity? I do. Maybe it’s a trick the mind plays on us, but I find, quite often, that once something enters my life other elements of it fall into place.

An example: I was once visiting Toronto, and as I crossed a street a thought popped into my head, and I said to my companion “A friend of mine moved down here last year, and I should check to see if she’s in the phone book.” Just as I said that, the friend in question whipped by on her bicycle. It’s an amazing coincidence that I would even spot her in a city of millions, let alone just as I was talking about her.

Several years ago, I purchased a paperback novel by a guy called Michael Marshall. It was called The Straw Men, and was the first book in a long while to really scare me. Without going into too much detail, I will tell you it concerns a man whose parents die; when he goes to their home, he finds a videotape from his childhood that reveals a horrifying social experiment in progress, and he realizes he didn’t know his parents at all. This leads into the investigation of a monster serial killer and an ancient organization of people who live to exploit the dark, all culminating in a violent encounter at a terrible place called The Halls.

It’s a doozy of a book, a real exploration of violence and fear, better than almost anything else out there in mass-market paper. I found it again last year, bought it, and read it again, and it was every bit as good, even knowing the twists and turns coming. I saw also that there are two sequels to it: The Upright Man (known in the UK as The Lonely Dead) and Blood of Angels. I sought out these books … but no luck. The chain bookstores here don’t have them, and none of my grizzled, dusty friends on booksellers’ row had copies, either. And after a while, I stopped looking and moved on to other things.

A couple of days ago, we were doing some Christmas shopping, and Ellie had been asking me what I might want for Christmas. I was thinking about books I wanted, and for some reason The Straw Men popped into my mind again. And then, within seconds, there was The Upright Man, sitting in a discount bin in a department store, $4.99 Canadian.

I opened it today and started reading. It’s a terrific novel, every bit as frightening as its predecessor, and I’m glad I found it. I’ll read more of Marshall’s stuff, his thrillers and the science fiction he writes under his full name, Michael Marshall Smith.

To cap off all this synchronicity, I just took a break from the book, logged onto the Internet, and learned via Variety that a movie of The Straw Men is in the early stages. Makes sense to me; these books would translate well to the big screen.

This is all too wild to be coincidence. I guess I was meant to read these books. And so were you.

UPDATE May 2010: I found Blood of Angels soon after writing this more than a year ago, and read it right away. It caps off the story nicely.


The Hidden Harbor Mystery

April 24, 2010

They don’t make children’s book covers like they used to …

This is the original cover to one of the Hardy Boys mysteries. Published in 1935, the book came in the midst of the publisher’s “art deco” period, with bold colours (mostly orange) and odd, cartoonish art. The cover would be replaced a few years later and redone completely when the early books were rewritten and shortened in the 1960s and 70s.

Rewritten? Yeah. A lot of the early books had to be updated, because they were still in print, and people in the 60s weren’t hip to 20s and 30s jargon. Besides, language changes. This book includes this line: “She was talking to the detective in the garden, and he was making love to her!” That doesn’t mean what you think it does.

It’s also really, really racist. Set in the south, the book features several African-American characters who are routinely described as “stupid-looking colored boys.” Another book from this period, Footprints Under The Window, features several Chinese characters who say, and I am not making this up, things like “Louie Fong, he a velly velly bad man!” And they all own laundries.

I collect these books as artifacts of an earlier time. They aren’t my Hardy Boys; mine are the books from my childhood, the late 60s and early 70s. The old ones, which were actually the first I read, came to me from an uncle. They’re weird. They’re strange. They’re a bizarre look at what it was like to be a child before the concept of “teenagerhood” really took hold in the 50s.

Kids don’t read the Hardy Boys today. That’s a shame. I learned a lot from these books, chiefly that if you blunder around long enough, you’ll eventually stumble into a ridiculous coincidence, during which the bad guys will explain everything in detail before your father rescues you. And nobody ever gets hurt.


A Dark Matter

February 10, 2010

Peter Straub is the finest writer alive. His books are hallucinogenic descents down hidden staircases, behind double walls, through secret doors and into the world that lives beside and below our own. His books are horror, and terror, and fear on paper.

Now comes A Dark Matter, his return to long-form epic fear after his two-book sojourn into shorter, sweeter meta-melancholia (Lost Boy, Lost Girl and In The Night Room). It’s the story of four friends who develop an interest in the occult, in the other side, and the lifelong price they pay.

If you have never read Straub, consider this a place to start, a book that avoids the cobwebs of interconnection that tie Koko, Mystery, the Throat, Lost Boy, Lost Girl, In The Night Room and so many of his short stories together. From there, move on to Mr. X and The Hellfire Club, and Shadowlands, and Floating Dragon, and Ghost Story …

You may have read some horror novels in your time. You may think horror is gore, and blood and suspense.

It isn’t.

It’s this.


Next Year: Gift Cards

January 1, 2010

Now that the holidays are winding down, let me share a quick story with you. It’s about gift giving, book shopping and how great minds think alike, and so do ours.

A few weeks ago, Mrs. Weathereye was reading about a new novel called The Bishop’s Man, by Canadian TV journalist Linden MacIntyre. The book had just won last year’s Giller Prize (Canada’s top book award) and it caught her fancy. As I was heading for the library, she asked me to see if I could sign out a copy.

I couldn’t, as it wasn’t available, but I made a pre-Christmas mental note to buy it for her as a gift.

Flash to mid-December. I went to the bookstore to buy it. This is one of those huge bookstores with a Starbucks and a fireplace and sofas and such. The first thing I saw when I got there was The Complaints, Ian Rankin’s newest. My mother is a huge Rankin fan, so I grabbed that. Then I found The Bishop’s Man and got in line.

And waited.

And waited.

There were two clerks working and about 30 people in line. After about 10 minutes, I knew I would be late getting the kids from school, so I put the books down and left. One thing led to another and I didn’t make it back for a few days, and during that time I stopped over at my mother’s and saw she was reading … The Complaints. She’d already bought it.

This reminded me that I still had to buy The Bishop’s Man. I went to another bookstore, a smaller one, but they were sold out, so I headed back to the big bookstore … and couldn’t find a parking space. Fuming and over-shopped, I decided to try again another day.

Just before Christmas, Mrs. Weathereye flew across the province to see her sisters. While there, they exchanged gifts, and it turned out both she and one of her sisters had bought a third sister the same present: The Bishop’s Man. “No worries,” Mrs. Weathereye said. “I’ve been wanting to read this, so I’ll just keep one copy and take you out to buy you a different book.” Problem solved. When I picked her up at the airport, she told me the story and I laughed, telling her how I’d almost bought her the book.

Cut to Christmas Eve. My mother gives us presents: The Complaints for me, The Bishop’s Man for her. The story gets told again. Everyone laughs. I can only wonder what we’d have done if I had actually managed to buy those two books. That would have meant four copies of The Bishop’s Man and two copies of The Complaints.

In related news, there are now nine copies of the Susan Boyle CD floating around our immediate families. Next year: gift cards.

  • Note: The Complaints is Rankin’s best book in a long time, even better than Doors Open, which I adored. I love his Rebus novels, but I prefer his standalones. I recommend this one to anyone who’s been wanting to try the Scottish writer out.