Monday, November 8, 2010

Agatha Christie as a Font of Inspiration

Wow, a little more than two months. What's been happening? Considering illustrations and where to place them for one thing. And going back to the source, for another. I found these cheapo paperbacks at The Brown Elephant shop in my neighborhood. These are the covers I remember from my Middle School reading days, and very hard to differentiate from the spy novels of the time. While they're not exactly dripping with Jazz Age imagery, the cover paintings have a charm of their own. What exactly, for example, a luger is doing on the cover of a novel where murder is committed with a stileto is beyond me.
As always, the First Lady of Crime can always turn a phrase. Right now I'm reading Cards on the Table.
The Superintendent muttered something under his breath and scribbled on his pad. His wooden calm was shaken. Mrs. Oliver sat enjoying her triumph. It was a moment of great sweetness to her.
Mrs. Ariadne Oliver is a barely-concealed caricature of Christie herself, "extremely well known as one of the foremost writers of detective and other sensational stories", as she is introduced in the book. Not above a little fun at her own expense, our Agatha.
The Secret of Chimneys is notable for the fact that the main detective in the book is Inspector Battle, usually used as a standard Scotland Yard foil to Poirot.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Secret Societies Make For Good Mysteries

Nothing adds to a mystery like the presence of a Secret Society. I was recently made aware of the infamous 18th Century Scottish thief William Brodie. This, in turn, led me to a club Brodie belonged to, along with some other prominent citizens of Edinburgh, called The Cape Club. My father, grandfather and great grandfather were all Scottish Free Rite Masons. There is, of course, a long history of conspiracy theories surrounding Freemasonry. For the purpose of Manny Tippitoes, what interests me are the potential of a secret society made of up prominent men for the creation of hi-jinks, criminal activities and funny costumes. And how that will feed into forbidden manuscripts and Book Two.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Graphomania, the Voynich Manuscript and Invented Texts

I'm starting work on the second book of a projected Manny Tippitoes trilogy, which will feature a Book of Forbidden Knowledge. In doing a little research into textual arcana I came across
The Voynich Manuscript. This book is believed to have originated in the 15th or 16th centuries and is written in a script and language that is similar to, but significantly different from, western ones. It has baffled scholars and cryptographers for centuries. The only known copy of the manuscript is at Yale University. One of the things that apparently frustrates would-be translators or de-coders is that the Voynich text (which is named after a book dealer who once owned the book, btw) looks like a guide to herbs, astronomy and possibly pharmaceuticals. It is also equally possible that the hand-written manuscript is an example of scribomania or graphomania.
As with so many things, the combination of age, possible value and the challenge of translating a mysterious text have driven many people to try and decipher the Voynich Manuscript. In the world of Manny Tippitoes; a similar text, written by a mad monk, will be a central focus for a number of characters.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dutch Mystery Covers

The invaluable A Journey Round My Skull blog has posted a number of paperback covers from Dutch Mystery Novels. Dutch looks innately funny when it is spelled out, I have always found, but the graphics on some of these are amazing. A very nice selection from a blog that consistently posts some great graphics.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The King

Jack "The King" Kirby has been a long time hero of mine, from the time I first came across a pile of Marvel Comics with their covers torn off in the cafeteria at elementary school to the present. There's a thinly veiled tribute to Kirby in Manny Tippitoes in the character of Lou "The Lord" Kaplan, who is referred to several times as a comic strip artist in the 1930s and comic book creator in the 40s and 60s. A few years ago I picked up a copy of The Collected Jack Kirby Collector, No. 1, a compendium of articles from a fanzine. The book has a series of interviews and panel discussions with Kirby. I came across one quotation from an interview printed in the program of the 1975 Comic Art Convention. Kirby was discussing how his creative partner Joe Simon, along with other artists like C.C. Beck and Will Eisner, had left the medium for commercial art in the 1950s.
"I suppose I'm considered some sort of dinosaur in the field, but I'm sticking with comics. I feel it's an important and powerful medium. I feel its been belaboured by people who have an axe to grind - it's been down and it should be lifted to a point where it really proves its national importance. This is a visual age and comic books are a visual medium. Not only can the intellectuals grasp it but also the common man. And, despite what a lot of people may say, it's the common men who make history."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dick Buckley 1925 - 2010

Chicago radio host Dick Buckley has passed away. His unmistakable voice and delivery were a weekly listen for me for many a year. When public radio station WBEZ axed Buckley's show in 2007 (along with most of their other music programming) I gave up on the station and, by and large, have never looked back.
WBEZ posted this photo and has some audio archives of Buckley's show. Listen for yourself.
There is a very thinly veiled tribute to Buckley in the book that I put in a few months ago. Like myself, the narrator loved the combination of a "vanilla milkshake voice" with expansive knowledge that Dick Buckley shared with his listeners.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vegeta - Prince of All Saiyans

What's really interesting to me about the Vegeta character in Akira Toriyama's Dragonball stories is his wounded sense of entitlement. Like Namor The Submariner, Vegeta is royalty. He is keenly aware of his superiority to human beings. He revels in it. Yet he finds himself frustrated at every turn by Goku, who is also a super-powered alien. Goku spent most of his life believing himself to be an ordinary boy. Vegeta's best drawn feature is his perpetual sneer, reflective of an inbuilt derision for virtually every other being in the universe. The character veers from from the raw pursuit of personal power to self-sacrifice across the manga and tv series which, of course, makes him much more interesting than the other characters.

Unknowing Disciple of Manny Tippitoes #1: Chris Watson

British sound recordist Chris Watson is the cover star of the August issue of Wire magazine. It's a great article (with the best cover and inside photos the magazine has run in a long time) and covers Watson's amazing recording skills reflected in his work on BBC Nature documentaries and his string of great CDs on the Touch label.
What struck me in the article, however, was the following passage detailing the end of a talk the writer watched Watson give at a hall in Central London:
It's only as he pads around the hall packing up after this presentation that it becomes apparent that Chris Watson isn't wearing shoes. Does he always work in stockinged feet? "Yeah" he responds laconically as the sky starts to darken outside. "I don't like clomping around."
And so, Chris Watson is the first in our series of The Unknowing Disciples of Manny Tippitoes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Out of the Woods

I have just returned from a camping trip in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The kernels that would germinate into Manny Tippitoes began roughly a year ago at a state park in south-central Wisconsin. Stories can begin and be elaborated around a campfire. In my case, someone was persistent enough to encourage me to put my stories down on paper.
This past weekend I was struck by the irony that the storytelling I began in a wilderness setting (okay, not complete wilderness but you get the point) has a decidedly urban tone. Manny Tippitoes, by and large, is an urban character. He interacts with people in a big, unnamed city that resembles in part New York City, Chicago and New Orleans. The only remotely rural settings are in the narrator's brief trip to see a retired colleague in a small town "up north" and the Tippitoes Family Estate, which is a caricature of a Victorian country home more than anything else.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Windsor Magazine, June 1905

Mr. Bowring, in the silence of the rose-lit drawing-room, thought of all the Devonshire Mansion, with its endless corridors and innumerable rooms, its acres of carpets, its forests of furniture, its gold and silver, and its jewels and its wines, its pretty women and possessive men - the whole humming microcosm founded on an unanimous pretence that the sacredness of property was a natural law. And he thought how disconcerting it was that he should be trapped there, helpless, in the very middle of the vast pretence, and forced to admit that the sacredness of property was a purely artificial convention.
from The Loot of Cities: The Adventures of a Millionaire in Search of Joy, No. 1 - The Fire of London by Arnold Bennett

Friday, July 2, 2010

Arthur Rackham's Loki

Golden Age Comic Book Stories has been an invaluable source of information and diversion. The illustrations that Mr. Door Tree posts there come from a personal collection of comics, books and visual ephemera.
When I was first starting Manny Tippitoes I found myself visualizing Manny himself. Much of the character comes from the trickster figures of folk tales and mythology. And for my money, Loki stands at the pinnacle when it comes to these figures. Mr. Door Tree has posted some scans of a book illustrating The Ring of the Niblung by the English artist Arthur Rackham that stuck in my noggin. In my mind Manny looks a lot like Rackham's Loki, with the same pointed ears, narrow eyes, think body frame and red hair. I'm unsure about the chin hair, but otherwise Manny and Loki are quite similar visually.
I should note that Manny Tippitoes isn't as downright nasty as Loki is in myth. Manny's pranks are altogether more harmless and can be quite beneficial to some people. And he would never wear sandals.

Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

I've been spending some time with a 1978 compendium on Castle Books called Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Forty detective stories with the original illustrations were selected by Alan K. Russell from English Illustrated magazines of the Victorian Age.
The book is a goldmine of ideas and inspiration for Manny Tippitoes both visually and textually. I am especially taken by the narrator called The Man In The Corner used in "The Mysteries of Great Cities" by the Baroness E. Orczy and the super-villainess Madame Sara in three stories by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace. There are stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells in the collection, but for me the appeal of this book lies with the also-rans and never-weres. The attempts to vary the detective personna exemplified by Sherlock Holmes are intriguing. The African Millionaire and Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective never caught on, much less The Man in the Corner (pictured). The illustrators are uncredited in the book and more's the pity. I'd love to see more from the person who illustrated The Sorceress of the Strand series. Many thanks are due to Annie for picking this out at the thrift store for me.