Tag Archives: Cthulhu

Public Image (Comics) Limited

Today’s post is the first from our newest blogger, Kelly, who works in the Customer Services department of Main Library. You’ll be reading Kelly’s take on life, the universe and everything at least once a month going forward. To learn more, visit the About Us page to read her bio.

Do you like comics?

If you answered yes, keep reading. If you answered no, keep reading.

Image Comics is an independent publisher of (primarily) creator-owned comic books and graphic novels. The writers and artists who put out books through Image each month don’t have to worry about pleasing any corporate bosses. They own their characters, and they can let those characters take them where they will. This leads to awesome stuff.

If you haven’t tried a comic book lately, or if you’ve been stuck in the same DC vs. Marvel superhero rut, try one of these excellent books from Image.

Saga, Volume I and Volume 2, Brian K. Vaughan.

No one thought it was possible for a native of Landfall and a native of Wreath to have a child together. No one imagined that sagaindividuals of the two species would want to. But Alana and Marko did, and now everyone in the galaxy wants them and their daughter either dead or captured.

sagatwoIn Saga, Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples haven’t just put a space opera spin on Romeo and JulietVaughan deftly avoids every potential cliché by using wonderfully quirky details for both the world and its characters: robots with televisions for heads, the use of secrets as ingredients for spells, a cat that can detect lies. Staples uses bold lines and rich colors to make the world shine, and she adds her own details too (like adorable seal and walrus people).

What I love most about this series is how much diversity Vaughan and Staples work into the cast. Character skin tones run from light to dark. There are what we would consider traditional relationships, and then there’s one character’s relationship with an eight-legged spider woman. There are gay characters. There are ghosts, who are red instead of the tired blue or green. And there’s everything in between.

Fatale, Ed Brubaker. Book 1: Death Chases Me, Book 2: The Devil’s Business, Book 3: West of Hell.

In this aptly-named noir detective series, Nicolas Lash meets Josephine at his godfather’s funeral, and quickly realizes the story fatale1she spins about her grandmother being an old friend of the deceased doesn’t add up. She is the woman in the old photo she shows him. And she hasn’t aged.

fatale2Lash’s godfather and Josephine had some kind of connection to a weird cult/mafia group. Lash lets his curiosity get the best of him, and is drawn into a world of crooked cops, mobsters with monster heads, and Cthulhu-esque tentacles. Josephine and her supernatural power to enthrall men unsurprisingly sit at the center of everything.

Although Brubaker uses Lash (and sometimes other men that Josephine meets) as a frame for the narrative, they are also tools forfatale3 exploring Josephine’s history and character. These men feel either an overwhelming need to kill or protect Josephine, but she proves that she’s capable of taking care of herself, without being the kind of leather-clad black-belt-super-markswoman-type character we see so much of these days.

Artist Sean Phillips uses dark shades and lots of shadow to create the noir horror effect. His panel layouts are simple and effective. I like that he doesn’t rely on gimmicks, just solid artwork. It helps ground the reader when Brubaker lets the plot get complicated.

Lazarus, Volume I: Family, Greg Rucka.

Forever Carlyle protects her family and its resources above all. And as the Carlyle Lazarus–a person genetically engineered to be an essentially un-killable and excellent fighter–Forever has little trouble fulfilling her duty.

lazarusThe future Forever and her family inhabit is bleak. A few powerful families control all the resources, including food. Peace between the families is tentative, and when someone attacks the Carlyles’ seed storage facility, a war between Carlyle and Morray seems inevitable. But was it truly Morray who orchestrated the attack? As Forever investigates, she begins to question her job and discover some uncomfortable truths about herself.

Author Rucka’s writing zips the plot along, and Michael Lark’s artwork makes a bleak and scary future look gorgeous. I love that Rucka has thought of how this future would come about, and that it’s something that I could imagine happening. That makes the story feel real, and rather terrifying.



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Pulp Fiction: H. P. Lovecraft



Back in the day, libraries, like dictionaries, were prescriptive rather than descriptive.   Dictionaries, such as Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language and the Oxford English Dictionary, told you what words to use and how to use them.  Slang, when not excluded entirely, was largely discouraged, grammar just so, and obscenities were verboten.

No longer.   Today’s dictionaries are descriptive of all manner of words and how we use them.  Slang, obscenities, and incorrect grammar are all welcome.  They reflect the language as it is, ever changing, ever evolving, as is the culture from which it grows.

Similarly, libraries, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, recommended the best, and collected that which was considered of historical and cultural significance.  Today libraries, like dictionaries, act as virtual cultural mirrors; they reflect who we are, what we do, and what we like (and dislike).  Libraries and library collections describe the culture, they don’t dictate it.

Which brings us to the pulps.

Pulp fiction was largely ignored by libraries for the above stated reasons, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was certainly no exception.   As the culture changed, so did the libraries.  Like many other libraries across the country, the Carnegie has gone back retrospectively and filled in the gaps.  Welcome now, with open arms, are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith, Erle Stanley Gardner and many, many more.

And, of course, most welcome is the grandaddy of them all, H. P. Lovecraft.

I’ve been a huge Lovecraft fan since my teen years, which coincided with the first resurgance of interest in HPL in the early 60’s, via mass market paperback editions from Ballantine Books.  What could be better?  They were flat-out horror: lurid, forbidden, suggestive, and, most of all, great fun.  Here is a list of my personal top ten favorite stories by Lovecraft:

At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are both novellas, both as close to writing a full-length novel as Lovecraft would ever get.  Prior to reading At the Mountains of Madness, I would suggest reading his literary mentor Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket .  If you do, you’ll be hard put to forget the phrase “Tekeli-li.”   The rest of the above list is comprised of short stories which vary only in degree of shock and explicitness; it goes without saying, that compared to today’s splatter horror, they are mild in execution.  However, the archetypal elements in Lovecraft’s stories provide a deeper strain of psychological horror that can be hard to shake long after the story is finished.

Ironically, after many years of being ignored, a few pulp authors, including Lovecraft, have found themselves accepted into the canon of contemporary literature by way of publication by The Library of America.  Besides Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick have received this cultural imprimatur.

Unlike many a trapped protagonist in their stories, this recognition of the lasting value of pulp fiction is better, much better, late, than never.

 – Don


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