Rewind Interview – Ian Cameron Esslemont

After a long and trying journey into the Azath I was finally able to track down one of the architects of the Malazan world that I find myself completely addicted to.

When I first read Ian Cameron Esslemont’s first book Night of Knives, I must admit my reaction was a bit lukewarm, not unwelcome but not a piece that impacted me. After I added more pieces to the puzzle and studied the ones I had with more scrutiny I tackled the book again and it was one of those books that made me review it and now I’m somewhat of an unabashed fan and while I don’t think it requires defending, I find myself doing so when the occasion presents itself.

night of knives ian cameron esslemont
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Scott Lynch Takes to the High Seas in Red Seas Under Red Skies and it’s Badass

We find the remnants of our band from The Lies of Locke Lamora stalking the pits of the Sinspire, patiently and calculatingly ascending lady luck’s ladder in Lynch’s Monte Carlo, the city-state Tal Verrar, marked on any map as the destination for the apex of high society and high stakes. The absurdity of the back in-saddle starting point exhibits the author’s greatest strength, his choices on how to pace a novel.

red seas under red skies scott lynch

The cut scenes to the recent past gives us the anatomy of the scheme that takes us to moments transpiring in the direct aftermath of The Lies of Locke Lamora are perfectly placed, functioning as a new door to open just before the occupied space stagnates. You seem to never be anywhere but where you want to be,

Lynch just doesn’t let you in on the fact until a chapter later, the reader neither sprinting or running a marathon as much as they are in a literary shuttle run. Our ‘hero’ is doing the only thing any reader should expect as an aftermath to the first book…

The Thorn of Camorr is grieving.

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On Haruki Murakami’s Birthday Let Me Rec a Book

Today is the great Haruki Murakami’s birthday and while he doesn’t need my or anyone else’s help to broadcast his amazing catalog of books I’m going to use the completely arbitrary occasion to recommend my favorite of his novels.

I’ve read every book he has written and most of his short stories and I feel like the usual recommendation, or at least the one I see the most americans having is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It has kind of a long but catchy name, is widely successful, an easy recommendation to fans of science fiction or speculative fiction in general, and has been mentioned by the author himself as his personal favorite of his own work.

That’s a lot of reason to pick it up and it’s a great book that I have unmitigated love for and at some point in my life would also be my choice but is, however, not my favorite.

My favorite has changed more than once. In various times it has been The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Norwegian Wood, and while never my very favorite I remain quite enamored by 1Q84 and think about it quite a lot.

My favorite at the moment is Kafka on the Shore.

kafka on the shore haruki murakami

This book can be befuddling for some. It doesn’t set-up and knock down questions in ways many people would want but I think does so in the best way possible and while by the time Murakami wrote Kafka on the Shore he was already widely successful and known and had proven he could write incredible stories whether they were infused with magic realism or just realism.

It’s here for me where his command was evident and he felt free enough to write about not so much incomplete ideas but ideas not fully revealed in a traditional manner and the confidence of his pen just exudes because he’s leaving a lot to the reader. He either finally felt like we earned his trust or felt like he had earned our enough to go on this ride.

This is not exactly an uncommon choice as a Murakami favorite but for those who only have dipped into one or two of his more represented books and are looking for the next one, Kafka on the Shore is way beyond a solid choice and could possibly become your next favorite book.

After Gygax and Before Critical Role, Greenwood Pastures in Forgotten Realms

I’m always interested in the origins or beginnings of things that take on a greater life of their own. Most of the time such things are quite humble in their beginnings and this feels very much that.

The Forgotten Realms has spawned several dozen bestselling novels (SO MUCH Drizzt), multiple incredibly successful video games, including one of my all time favorites in Neverwinter Nights, and obviously had an incalculable impact on Dungeons and Dragons and role playing in general, which itself is a reascending hobby (see Critical role) and entertainment choice both online and people actually getting together and having conversations with each other.

Realms was birthed from the mind of one Ed Greenwood who first put to official publication his words in Dragon magazine, one of two official DnD publications, that Greenwood would go on to write many columns and articles for laying the groundwork to his now iconic campaign setting that he first created as backdrops for various short stories he had written in the ’60s and would later turn into a personal campaign setting.

The first Greenwood writings would come in Dragon magazine #30 in 1979.

dragon magazine forgotten realms greenwood

For anyone interested it was an entry in the Dragon’s Bestiary column and on the Curst that started it all.

We throw around the word worldbuilding a lot when we talk about games, novels, and comics, but I’m not sure if that term has ever found a more appropriate avatar on earth than Greenwood.

While Realms isn’t near my favorite fantastic locale nor is Greenwood my favorite author in it, the part of me that has always liked to build and plan things, to find, contemplate, and fill-in minutia greatly admires someone who does the same but has served millions of people with his groundwork in so many aforementioned modes of entertainment.

Who would have thought something Dungeons & Dragons adjacent from the uber nerdy ’80s portfolio and often carried perhaps the most negative stereotype of the time with it, would now be viewed as some form of a growing last bastion of IRL social interaction?

It’s pretty incredible.

And it started, at least for public consumption, here.

Rewind Review – Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora

Sandwiched in between new content I’m going to be representing some of my older content, mostly reviews and interviews, and this was a review of mine of Scott Lynch’s debut novel The Lies of Locke Lamora. I read this several months before it was published so you’re getting one of the earliest takes on this book (though undoubtedly not one of the best lol!).

Hope you enjoy

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Collecting Riddle-Master with Patricia McKillip’s Riddle of Stars

I’ve always liked this cover.

This hardcover edition from 1979 collects Patricia Mckillip’s wonderful, lyrical, and beautiful RiddleMaster series. Mckillip is the first stylist that I, as a young reader, identified as a stylist while reading fantasy. I know that sounds at least slightly silly as everyone has their own writing style but there are authors that just seem to have that extra layer, almost like a beat, to their prose.

riddle of stars patricia mckillip

Other such writers that immediately come to mind are Catherynne Valente, Rikki Ducornet, and China Mieville.

It wasn’t just about the story being told, it was the how, and like music can, Mckillip just adds emotional weight augmenting by our own standard consumption of the plot and text. This remains one of my favorite fantasy stories and I was introduced to it via this collected edition featuring cover art by Jack Woolhiser. I loved it so much I had spent some time looking for the original art to the cover to hang in one of my homes but to no avail.

I’ve interviewed dozens of authors and one of the handful that I regret never being able to get to is McKillip, if only to tell her how much this series meant to me.

Aside, I’ve always thought it would have been a great choice for a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli adaptation. It just possesses that mix of YA ambiance with deep emotional resonance that I attribute to Studio Ghibli films, and the studio has successfully adapted many western books into anime and outright cinema classics.

Smurfs! Enter Gargamel and Azrael

Added to the collection today with another copy of Le Voleur de Schtroumpfs which was a minicomic that came with an issue of Spirou from 1959. If you want, you can read about their first appearance and that of Smurfette before continuing.

spirou peyo smurfs

This features the first appearance of Gargamel, who I guess qualifies as the main antagonist of the Smurfs especially if you’re someone who grew up on the original cartoon.

What I’ve always said I appreciate about Peyo’s art is his storytelling. Like a lot of the better Disney comics these could be wordless and you’d get the story and I’ve always been a sucker for cartoonist giving us an effective silhouette to look at.

gargamel art peyo spirou
gargamel smurfs peyo spirou

As you can see we also get the first appearance of Azrael, Gargamel’s cat. Gargamel is almost irredeemable and more than just kind of a bad stereotype even beyond being a dick to the Smurfs – he often wants to eat them or turn them into gold (which is quite the variance of utility within these little blue people) – but he does love his cat and there are stories that show him very much going against his other norms and desires to protect Azrael.

In return Azrael… well Azrael is a cat thus often times will take some unspoken pleasure in Gargamel’s worst or embarrassing moments.

La La La La La and Zombies? The First Appearance of the Smurfs & Smurfette

What if I told you the first dedicated Smurfs story was a 1950s zombie tale?

Whether a rookie card or the first appearance of a comic character I was trained by guides to value more things than others things in hobbies and recently I picked up some related to the Smurfs, a cartoon that’s reruns was on constant rotation when I was really young.

The Smurfs, however, I think are MUCH older than most think.

The Smurfs were created by Peyo and first appeared in the 1950s, in a French/Belgian comic magazine called Spirou and look largely the same today as they did in their debut.

smurfs first appearance peyo spirou

The image above is the very first time a full Smurf ever appeared in 1958 when they appeared in the storyline La Flûte à six trous (“The Flute with Six Holes”) in a chapter of a continuing story centering around Johan et Pirlouit or, if you are an American and recall the cartoons, Johan and Peewit.

The next issue of Spirou would feature the Smurfs first cover appearance, including an ax-wielding Papa Smurf.

smurfs spirou first cover appearance

I have a few sets of these now but always on the lookout for items like this that combine pop culture items from my life and hobbies that I already am a part of like comics.

The Smurf brand has taken a bit of a hit, to say the least, in recent years with some truly fundamentally bad films but it was still a definite part of my early childhood.

When considering character designs as it relates to iconic characters, they are largely identifiable to their first iterations: Spider-Man, Batman (even with Bob Kane’s shitty art), and even newer character like Deadpool are largely visually the same as they were, even though dozens to hundreds of creators have since added their own spin to them.

Here are the Smurfs. Sixty years later and they look like… the Smurfs. I’m kind of here for Papa Smurf Ax Rampage though.

Speaking of Papa Smurf. Ever see him without his hat?

I got you.

Some issues of Spirou, which was an anthology of many comics, at this time also came with mini-comics within them. One of the earlier ones was this one:

smurfs first full publication  Les Schtroumpfs noirs

Les Schtroumpfs noirs (The Black Smurfs) was released in 1958 (and later published in a collected album and adapted to the cartoon) and besides being a zombie-ish Smurf story it has I think the only time we’ve seen anything challenge Papa Smurf to the extent of knocking off his iconic hat.

I have to admit I never really considered crucial questions like what hairstyle would Papa Smurf be rocking? Do all the Smurfs share the same one? Does the the later appearance of Smurfette usher in a new sense of style to the Smurfs? Peyo had the answer, at least to the first question, almost from the beginning.

Papa Smurf went bald with his traditional strong facial hair. You will notice, as the title indicates, Papa Smurf is black after catching the boom (or BAOM! to be precise). In the animated and recent U.S. Smurf adaptations the ailment makes Smurfs purple, a switch presumably made to be less socially problematic, and is titled The Purple Smurfs.

This mini-comic is actually the first 100% Smurfs publication, not being part of an anthology.

As a comic and manga collector I love getting and seeing these early appearances of characters and properties and being able to experience them in their primal form, and to think that from this Belgian mini-comic, which would fit completely in the palm of a child’s hand would be adapted several decades later into a cartoon that would be part of a time where Smurfs were ubiquitous in a decade’s childhood in the United States.

But what about the most famous Smurf? Their better half?

Peyo created and introduced the Smurfs in 1958 in the pages of Spirou but it would be 8 years later… I’m guessing eight LONG years later if you’re a pre-existing Smurf to be blessed with a better half version of themselves.

… and they have their arch-nemesis to thank for it.

A couple issues earlier Smurfette was created by Gargamel in a scheme to get at the Smurfs and this strip, fresh out of yesterday’s mailbox, is Smurfette’s first full appearance and you will immediately notice something different about her.

first smurfette appearance spirou

Smurfette a brunette?

Yes.

She would not get her much more signature blonde locks for another 8 issues, courtesy of Papa Smurf (I’d say the local expert on unique head fashion in Smurf Village).

Important: Smurfette does debut matching though. White hat, sundress, and kicks, she’s out there.

What I like about just looking at this one page strip in an issue full of many other creator’s strips is that much like with the best Disney comics, Peyo’s storytelling language is universal just with his imagery. When reading it just now it never occurs to you that you don’t speak or read the language within the word balloons.