Monday, July 6, 2009

While I Was Away

Well, I've been away for longer than I thought again. While I was away for a month percolating on other projects, this long, weird summer doesn't seem to be moving along any faster. I'd much prefer to offer a more interesting update - "What I did on my summer vacation when I was supposed to be slaving over a hot keyboard," or something - but this little bulletin will have to do for now.

Over at Bookslut, Jessa Crispin's reign of terror has officially ended in a bloodless coup. Well, okay, it wasn't really terror, and it really only involves our supreme leader moving to Berlin to get her deutsch on. But we're left in the capable hands of new editor Caroline Eick, who seems very nice, even if she made me feel a bit like Methuselah when I saw her on the teevee.

In this month's issue, I've contributed "Enemies, Public and Private," which offers a glancing blow at the mid-summer movie season and a fairly in-depth look at what is easily my favorite non-fiction book of the past six months, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34 by Esquire contributor Bryan Burroughs, the much more extensive source material for the new film Public Enemies. I saw the film over the holiday weekend and while it's pretty good, especially Mann's superb command of digital photography, I can still only wish it had stayed at HBO and been made into a miniseries. Maybe someone smart will realize that there's no reason it can't still be done, regardless of the film's relatively sedate $26 million opening.

In the column, I also made a short ricochet off of Loser's Town, the debut novel by Daniel Depp, the big brother to movie star Johnny. Just in case I didn't leave enough information about that particular title, here's a bit of the much-quoted review of the book I wrote for Kirkus Reviews.

After a droll introduction during which two thugs-for-hire bicker while disposing of an inconvenient corpse, we meet David Spandau, an atypical investigator decked out in Armani and Tony Llamas. Irritable, terse and late for an assignment, Spandau is on a movie set to meet with high-strung Hollywood celebutante Bobby Dye. The actor believes he's about to break into the A-list with a western called Wildfire, but he's losing his cool after receiving a series of death threats. Still suffering from rodeo injuries, a little melancholy owing to a soft spot for whiskey and ex-wife Dee, the cowboyish Spandau reluctantly takes the case. He discovers that Bobby is being blackmailed by gangster Richie Stella, who wants the hot actor to headline his mob-financed flick. Even if this L.A. noir treads ground already covered by the likes of Elmore Leonard, screenwriter Depp blends its familiar elements with enthusiasm. He demonstrates a wicked behind-the-scenes awareness of Hollywood's inherent absurdity and utilizes a wealth of old-school venues ranging from the haunted dwellings of Wonderland Avenue to the nightclubs of the Sunset Strip (including one "Voodoo Room" that strongly resembles the infamous Viper Room once owned by the author's celebrated half-brother Johnny). Depp also turns the rare trick of creating supporting characters as charismatic as his lead, among them Terry McGuinn, an eloquent, Tolkien-obsessed runt enlisted by Spandau to co-opt one of Stella's underlings, and Amos Potts, one of Stella's go-to heavies who's just trying to make ends meet. "How Dashiell Hammett," as Terry remarks in one scene. Readers will join him in adding, "Pray go on." Sharp-tongued debut that obviously knows the City of Angels well.

There are bound to be plenty of cash-in titles about Dillinger hitting shelves any second now, but for anyone who wants more than a Wikipedia entry about the elusive bank robber, you ought to take advantage of your tax dollars at work. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an interesting historical site about Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and other criminals of the era, including .PDF versions of the original Dillinger case files, which make for an afternoon's worth of entertainment by themselves.

Meanwhile, back at Kirkus, the Graphic Spotlight 2009 has arrived online. From my own finely-tuned pen you'll find spotlights on Rick Geary's new biography of Leon Trotsky, Tim Hamilton's really fantastic full-color adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, a chat with Hideyuki Kikuchi about his truly weird novel Wicked City (the original inspiration for both the popular manga and anime adaptations of its future-noir storyline), and finally a round of hide-and-seek with R. Crumb about his new literal adapation of The Book of Genesis, part of which is being excerpted in The New Yorker as we speak.

There's plenty of good stuff throughout the issue, as other writers take on the great Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza, Ghostface Killah's Cell Block Z, David Mazzuchhelli's much lauded Asterios Pulp, and Joe Kelly's I Kill Giants. There's even a quick look at Ian Rankin's shot at Hellblazer, Dark Entries.

And if anyone from Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image or anybody else wants to send comic books here, they'll be in good hands. I swear.

Is that all I've been up to? There seems to be a lot more scribbling going on around here these days.

Oh, yes. I also talked to a man who walked on the moon. But more on that later.

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