Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sticky Monsters

Sticky MonstersSticky Monsters by John Kenn Mortensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Kenn Mortensen's first collection of his macabre drawings, all done on post-it-notes, will hold a place of prominence on my artbook/graphic novel shelf. It's not a graphic novel, per se, but Mortensen's visual vignettes each tell a story, usually by presenting a knife's-edge moment of suspense, leaving the viewer wondering what has just happened, and what is about to happen, between his cast of monsters (from the ectoplasmic to the cthulhoid to the ghoulish) and their foils (usually children). The washed out yellow of each page, combined with the artist's fine linework, gives each piece a pseudo-sepia-tone that is perfect for the archaic dress and minimalist, yet prosaic, settings of each of these drawings. If you're an Edward Gorey fan who wants a little more "bite," then this is the perfect book for you. And while Mortensen's pieces do point back to a simpler age (e.g., Klimt's "Tree of Life" is evoked throughout), the subtle emotional complexity of these artworks points to something altogether new. Much of Mortensen's work is available online, however, one must see these drawings in this book in order to appreciate what a fine artifact the book itself is.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

OSR Giveaways!

For you old-school renaissance gamers, there are two wonderful blogs giving away OSR gifts for the holidays, but don't wait - get over there quickly!

First is the wonderful Tenkar's Tavern's 12 days of OSR Christmas. Lots of people have put up items for this randomly-chosen giveaway, including yours truly - yes, there's a hardcover copy of Heraclix & Pomp in there somewhere!

Second is Channel Zero's giveaway of several issues of Crawl magazine.

Stop reading this! Go get your name in the comments! Win stuff!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

No Exit

No ExitNo Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a function of pure entertainment, Sartre's No Exit is brilliant. Ironically, Sartre uses almost-pure dialogue to "show not tell" the dilemma faced by Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, three "absentees" (a euphemism for "the dead") locked into a room, condemned to be together for eternity. Each has arrived here for different reasons, but all three possess qualities that bring out the worst in the others. Rather than the traditional hellish tropes of horned demons and hell-fire, this play evokes more special tortures - the ability to see into the world of the living only long enough to know what other living beings are saying about you since you've been "absent," the pressure of having three personalities who delight in interfering with each potential pairing (and the promise of solace that might mean), and the exquisite pains of honest self-doubt.

I had hoped to take this as a "primary source" of Sartre's philosophy, but perhaps I've got it all backwards. I am familiar with the tenets of existentialism that Sartre espoused, but the philosophical gloss that is given in No Exit seems to be as much a veneer as a core underpinning.

That said, one need not think too hard to realize that this is an excruciatingly uncomfortable examination of human nature in all its banality. The characters at once seem likable, or at least their character flaws seem excusable, initially. As the play goes on, though, we begin to see each person's flaws magnified, as with a glass, until the full impact of their crimes and selfishness are realized. Soon, the audience feels shame for having excused or even liked the absentees, with a full realization that any of them (the audience, that is) could be seen as Garcin, Inez, or Estelle, or possibly even a conglomeration of any two or all three.

Not for those who don't like looking in the mirror. Or even for those who do. Prepare to be discomfited!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Here We Go Again!

My publisher is giving away 10 signed hardcover copies of my novel Heraclix and Pomp at Goodreads. Perhaps you'd like to enter? Of course you'd like to enter. Go enter! Now! Where?

Right here.

Good luck! And here's the cover image to whet your appetite:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creativity Games at Mystery to Me Books

Joanne Berg, owner of Mystery to Me books in Madison, was so kind as to host an event with me as reader, game master, and general entertainer. After a very short introductory reading of three of the main characters in Heraclix and Pomp, we all took part in a series of creativity games including the surrealist game Exquisite Cadaver, the Oulipo game N+7, an Aguirre exclusive inspired by Michael Moorcock's outstanding book Death is No Obstacle, and a whodunit game with a super-secret source that I cannot reveal unless I immediately kill you. And no one wants that!

What people do want, however, is pictures. So here's a picture taken after the games were all through:

We had a great time and laughed the cold away. If you felt a pulse of warmth in Madison last Friday night, you're welcome. We hope to melt all the snow and drive Winter away for good next time, but we'll need your help! Thanks to Joanne and to our dedicated little crowd. I can't wait to do this again!

PS: For you author and bookstore owner types, yes, Joanne sold several books that night and a few more the next day. You see? Fun does pay!

Luxury Arts of the Renaissance

Luxury Arts of the RenaissanceLuxury Arts of the Renaissance by Marina Belozerskaya
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the first discoveries I made as an undergraduate Bachelor of Humanities student is that there isn't enough time in the world to learn everything you would want to learn about art. So, for three years I soaked up as much as I could, studying painting technique, critiquing cinema, memorizing music pieces, learning a bit about dance and a lot about history and the philosophy of aesthetics.

One thing I did not learn was that, despite our modern focus on Renaissance painting and sculpture, those who lived at that time considered these "high arts" to be . . . well, not so high as we think of them. While no one can discount the marvel of innovation that Renaissance sculptors and painters brought into the world of art, Belozerskaya argues that, for those contemporary with the art that was being produced, painting and sculpture played second fiddle in the royal courts.

One could easily guess that precious metals and precious stones were valued highly by the nobility for their portability and their ability to maintain worth over time. What might not be so obvious is the high esteem in which tapestry, decorated armor, and music (written, sung, played, or even danced to) were held. Belozerskaya uses a series of contemporary sources to prove the thesis and does so convincingly. One of the more intriguing uses of evidence is the use of Charles Le Brun's tapestry Visit of Louis XIV to the Gobelins Workshope, 15 October 1667, which shows nothing other than Louis XIV shopping for tapestries at said workshop. A brilliant bit of meta-advertising on the part of the Gobelins workshop, no?

The book itself is a bit of luxury. It is illustrated throughout with beautiful color photos of tapestries, etched armor, automata, serving vessels, and even a bejeweled crystal marten head, which was ostensibly attached to a fur and worn to special occasions. PETA would not have survived long in the Renaissance.

And what is the point of all of this spectacle? It is to stun the senses of both subject and foreign dignitary alike, to impress upon the mind that whatever noble is enveloping you in this carnival of earthly delights is powerful enough to ensure stability and shelter from whatever vicissitudes might present themselves. "Don't worry," the possessor of these wonders seems to say, "you are in good hands. You're safe with me".

In perfect academic fashion, Belozerskaya leaves her thesis for the end, though it would have been nice to know at the very beginning of the book. So here you are:

"Single objects preserved in museums today, be they tapestries or gold statuettes, suits of armor or illustrated books, cannot bring back to life the richly textured procession of kings, courtiers, and citizens decked out in their finery, slowly moving through streets noisy with excited crowds, the sounds of trumpets, and the ringing voices of actors . . . The sensory overload brought on by overlapping layers of luxury creations was part of the alchemy that marked the realm of the great and distinguished momentous events from mundane routines.”

Ironically, this sumptuous feast for the eyes and mind can be yours for absolutely free as a google book. Google: building democracy one book at a time.

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Addendum: Other links to Getty's fine books and how you can use them for nefarious purposes can be found here.