Artciles Published the Week of January 8th

How His Girl Friday, One of the Best Movies of All Time, Led to Today's TV Dramedies

For the comedy website Splitsider I wrote about one of my favorite movies - and one of the best movies of all time - His Girl Friday. I've long been of the opinion that Howard Hawks is one of the greatest filmmakers ever, that Cary Grant is hilarious, and that this is one of the best screwball comedies. I also talk about how the film's genius - the fact that it's dark and emotionally complex while also being laugh out loud funny, the ways that it combines dark subject matter with verbal wordplay. Also how it shows Russell's Hildy Johnson as a brilliant journalist.


Articles Published the Week of January 1st

Luke Healy on Arctic Expeditions and How To Survive in the North

It's not a how to book - though in our conversation, Healy does offer some advice on the topic - but the recent graphic novel How To Survive in the North is beautifully drawn and thoughtfully written. Healy looks at two Arctic expeditions from early in the 20th Century and a related contemporary story, and it will make you grateful that you never tried to explore the Arctic. We talked about his work, the book and related topics in what I think was a fun conversation.


R.I.P. Shirley Hazzard

I've read a few books by Shirley Hazzard, but in the end my opinion of her and her work comes down to two books: The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire.

The two novels were published more than twenty years apart - and maybe it should be noted that she published no fiction in those intervening year. Hazzard wrote only a handful of books in her life. Born in Australia, Hazzard lived in New Zealand, Asia, Europe, and spent much of her life in New York City where she worked for the United Nations for a few years and then lived there with her husband the late scholar Francis Steegmuller

Both of the novels that I mentioned, which are her two finest works, are narratives involving a handful of characters in globe-spanning adventures. Hazzard was a duel citizen and spent much of her adult life in the US and Italy, neither country where she was born or spent her youth, and I think that this quality can be seen in her fiction because there is a global perspective to it which many of her contemporaries - American or British or elsewhere - do not have. The title, The Transit of Venus, being the central metaphor of these people and their complicated lives over the decades moving through the world, is at the heart of much of her work. She wasn't an Australian abroad, but she was a thoughtful woman who was part of this globalist culture, steeped in the classics and the best of our intellectual traditions, and that was where she was from above all, more than any single nation.

Her books are very consciously intellectual books. When she was awarded the National Book Award for The Great Fire, she spoke passionately and eloquently in defense of high culture in a way that was striking and moving for its passion.It's something that no doubt turns off many readers. To be honest I have no idea how widely she is read today or by others, but those two books are magnificent. I have an itch to reread both of them.

It seems petty to say, but the only thing worse than the death of Shirley Hazzard is the fact that there will be no more Shirley Hazzard novels.


R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

Like everyone I knew Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. I was always more Star Trek than Star Wars but I owned the trilogy on VHS and watched them....many times. Of course Carrie wasn't Leia, and so the first time I really got to know her was in the Book "The Portable Curmudgeon Redux" compiled and edited by Jon Winokur.

I received the book as a book prize in middle school from my history teacher. Admittedly I'm not entirely sure that this is what people had in mind when they established book prizes (I also received a prize for math and the teacher gave me a poetry book, so whether or not that was what was intended, the faculty had their own ideas and wanted to give a personal gift that would be appreciated). Leaving aside whether I am in fact a curmudgeon, the book had a number of quotations and anecdotes from and about various people. It is incredibly funny.

It also featured interviews with various people including Larry Gelbart (the first i encountered that genius' name), Dave Barry, PJ O'Rourke and Carrie Fisher.

She was brash and sarcastic and mean and funny and maybe not quite Dorothy Parker but damn good.

I've always remembered that - and I still have the book, which I've kept ever since middle school which was many...many...many years ago.

I can only hope that people go back and read her writing because she was so smart and funny. She was also troubled, but hey, she was born and grew up in the public eye and who wouldn't be screwed up. She managed to do something really amazing though. And for all the bravery that came with appearing in the new Star Wars movie, often without makeup, showing her age - that's nothing compared to what she did when she took pen to paper.

I hope her novels get some attention and I'd love to see a nice collection of interviews she did assembled - I'm sure they'd be hilarious, and nice collection of her screenplays and stageplays, and a nice collection of her nonfiction. There's plenty of articles and essays that I don' think have been collected and they would find an audience, I think. She definitely deserves it.


R.I.P. George Michael

I'll be honest that until a few years ago, all I really knew about George Michael was the song "Faith." Don't get me wrong, it's a catchy song, a fabulous song, but that was about it. Also, that he had been arrested.

What changed was the TV show Eli Stone.

The short-lived series was created by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (who today are better known for Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and the nonstop superhero tv shows). It starred Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Elementary) as a lawyer who begins having visions.

The show knew that a character suddenly seeing George Michael performing was funny and it played the scenes for laughs. But they also managed to do some great song and numbers. And they dealt with, what would happen if a lawyer starts ranting and raving and seeing visions, because that would be a problem.

George Michael appeared throughout the show's first season often in really interesting ways. In fact one of the best episodes, and one that really gave co-star Victor Garber a chance to be more than just the intense senior partner role, was where Michael guest starred as himself.

The case that episode was about a teenage girl who played Michael's song "I Want Your Sex" in school to protest an abstinence only education program and Michael wanted to defend the girl and took the stand to talk about the song, about losing friends to AIDS and the background of writing the song.

The series was created by someone who was clearly a fan of Michael and his music. Each episode was named after one of his songs, he appeared and sang his own songs and others throughout. And in the final episode of the first season, Michael performed what may be the second best rendition of Feelin' Good that I've ever heard. (And first is Nina Simone, and there is no shame in coming in second to Miss Simone). It was a great performance.

But the entire show made me look at a pop star who I had never really thought much about. In part because I'm too young to really know his work as I missed it the first time around when it was hugely popular. Pop culture is often fluid, it's often fun but disposable, but there is so much work that gets created which is meaningful, which is powerful, which deserves to endure. Because that's why so many of us find so much of pop culture, not bad, but uninteresting. Because we know that it can be good, something that we can listen to again and again for years and decades, and that it will continue to mean something, and mean something different at different times in our lives.

So I went back and I found that he was half of Wham! - again, a group that I was too young to notice the first time around. And I listened to all the songs like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Last Christmas, Faith, Careless Whisper, Freedom 90, I Want Your Sex. There's his duet with Elton John, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which was a hit with all the proceeds going to various charities. There's Somebody To Love, the Freddy Mercury song that Michael recorded with the remaining members of Queen in 1993

Since his death, much has been discussed about Michael being gay and what that meant. People have talked about his generosity and his desire for the most part to be generous behind the scenes. He didn't make a show of donating money and time to so many projects. That speaks to what a good man he was. To listen to his work again, to listen to the songs he wrote, it's clear what a good artist he was. I hope that he knew what so many of us thought of him.

"Well I need someone to hold me
But I wait for something more
Yes I've gotta have faith"

Articles Published the Week of December 25th

Emerging Talent and Publisher Kevin Czap

Kevin Czap is a great up-and-coming cartoonist and the publisher behind Czap Books. Both Kevin and the imprint are coming off a great 2016 and next year Kevin is publishing a great lineup of young cartoonists. We had the chance to talk recently about their own work, what attracts and interests them in publishing others, and a quick preview of what will come out in 2017.

The Delightful Weirdness of The Great Muppet Caper

Splitsider asked a number of its writers to write about what makes us happy, what keeps us sane, what gives us some comfort in a series they called "The Best Medicine."People selected all sorts of work - Curb Your Enthusiasm, Happy Endings, and one of my favorite movies ever, Time Bandits. I wrote about The Great Muppet Caper. Which has pretty much always been one of my favorites.

The Beat's Best Comics of 2016

I was asked to contribute to the Beat's list of best comics of the year. A lot of people were already writing about ones I loved - March Volume 3, which is my pick for the best of the year, Dan Clowes' Patience, and others. I highlighted a few books:

Black Dog by Dave McKean
U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories by Sam Glanzman
Paracuellos: Volume 1 by Carlos Gimenez
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort
Paul Up North by Michel Rabagliati
One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg