Sunday, March 27, 2011

Introducing Jerry Robinson and China Miéville

Book 32: Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics by N.C. Christopher Couch

I've spent more than 50 years reading and collecting comics, yet I did not know about the work of Jerry Robinson. 

There are some sound reasons for my ignorance: Robinson's best work in the field took place well before I ever held a comic in my hands. Plus, he worked for D.C. and, well, I've always made mine Marvel.

Still, I should have known. Robinson is the man who created the Joker. That's right, one of the greatest super villains of all time, sprang from the pen and the imagination of Jerry Robinson. He also created Robin, the Boy Wonder; borrowing his name and much of his attire from Robin Hood.  

Those are impressive claims to fame in the world I inhabit. Yet there's so much more to Robinson's story as N.C. Christopher Couch makes clear in Jerry Robinson Ambassador of Comics, a lush book filled with sample after sample of Robinson's work.

After working alongside Bob Kane -- yeah, that Bob Kane, the man who created Batman -- and later for Stan Lee -- yeah, that Stan Lee -- Robinson left the comic book industry to illustrate books and magazines. Still later he launched his own comic strip and, still later, he became a successful editorial cartoonist.

But wait, there's more.  Robinson played a pivotal role in the campaign to give Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel credit for their role in creating Superman.  He became involved in human rights campaigns on behalf of jailed cartoonists overseas and helped international cartoonist find an audience in America. And he also became a historian of the comic book industry.

Robinson's body of work is impressive.  He's impressive.  A talented, creative, compassionate man. Did I say he created the Joker?

Book 33: Kraken by China Miéville

I am given to reading books that won literary awards . . . the Booker, the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, the Hugo.  It gives me a sense of the direction of current literature and introduces me to new writers.

Such was the case with China Miéville who shared the 2010 Hugo Award with Paolo Bacigalupi.  Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. Miéville for The City, and The City. 

I haven't read that award-winning work by Miéville, but I did snag a copy of Kraken, his newest work.  And now I understand something of what the fuss is about. If The City, and The City is on par with Kraken (and I suspect it is) then Miéville is going to be around for a long time to come, and my consumption of science fiction is going to reach levels not seen in decades.

Kraken is a fast-paced novel that mixes elements of mystery, science fiction and fantasy.  A giant squid, tank and all, has disappeared from London's Natural History Museum.  As one characters says don't focus on the how, but on the why and the who. Because someone is determined to set off the apocalypse.

Our inadvertent hero is Billy Harrow, a curator at the museum.  Billy knows things he doesn't know he knows.  The Krakenists, a small cult that worship the giant squid, believe he is their prophet because he has laid hands on the squid, their god.

Billy and an exile from the squid cult (can't believe I am writing that) set off to find the kraken and forestall the end of the world. Those who come to their aide and those who oppose their efforts are a thrilling array of characters that testify to Miéville's imagination.  One murderous pair of villains and a enchanted gang leader known as The Tattoo rank among literature's creepiest supernatural characters since Dracula.

Miéville exhibits vast talent in Kraken, a tour de force of the fantastical, conjuring Lovecraft and Stross and Fringe and yet quite unlike anything else in the field today.

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