Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Memories

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend (2014) by Martin Short and David Kamp: Martin Short's memoir is breezy and funny despite all the tragic bits. And there are tragic bits. Short, a native of Hamilton, Ontario (his father was an executive for Stelco), lost his oldest brother, his mother, and his father in separate incidents, all before Short was 20. 

But Short's memoir focuses on the good times and, failing that, the funny ones throughout his life while explaining how early tragedy shaped his character -- and in some cases his characters. Periodically, the narrative gives way to two or three pages about the creation and evolution of Short's most famous sketch characters. There's Ed Grimley, of course, along with Jackie Rogers, Jr. and Irving Cohen and Jiminy Glick and several others. Fans of Short will be delighted by revelations about the backgrounds of these characters.

The memoir also reveals the astonishing creative hotbed that was Toronto in the late 1960's and early 1970's -- Short, Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, and Eugene Levy (to name five) all worked on the same production of Godspell in the early 1970's. Many others would soon be at the Toronto Second City -- John Candy, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara -- when Short joined that ensemble later in the decade.

Short's decades-long love affair with his wife, Nancy, forms a constant thread throughout. So, too, his friendships with various actors and comedians, most notably Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron, and Paul Schafer. There are a lot of laughs here, along with the occasional odd revelation (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell bought a home in Ontario's Cottage Country because they so liked Short's cottage). There aren't any dark revelations or secrets exposed here -- it is, like Ed Grimley, sweet and a bit odd. Recommended.


Dark Night: A True Batman Story (2016): written by Paul Dini; illustrated by Eduardo Risso: Writer Paul Dini remains best-known for being one of a handful of creators who made Batman: The Animated Series such a joy in the early 1990's. Set in the early 1990's, Dark Night: A True Batman Story is Dini's memoir of the injuries he suffered in a vicious attack, his subsequent withdrawal from work and friends, and his road to recovery.

Of course, it's not just about physical problems. Dini painfully details the depressed head-space he occupied in the early 1990's, infatuated with a starlet who didn't love him and obsessively concerned with his own 'coolness' even at the fringes of Hollywood -- Warner Brothers animation, to be exact. Dini traces some of his childhood experiences in order to explain how he got where he got, and how he then got out of there.

It's an excellent memoir with elements that many outsiders and geeks and nerds will find often harrowingly familiar and poignant. It would be fitting if DC Animation made an animated movie out of this. 

Eduardo Risso's art is the best work I've seen from him. Best-known for NuNoir art on Brian Azzarello's hard-boiled 100 Bullets series, Risso here delineates the normative and the fantastic here with an equal conviction. It's marvelous -- I don't know that I thought Risso was capable of this sort of art. This is the sort of Batman story that people with no real interest in Batman might nonetheless find absolutely compelling. Highly recommended.


Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist (2015) by Bill Griffith: Winner of the 2016 Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist for his work on this graphic novel, Bill Griffith is best-known for his decades of work on the loopy world of Zippy the Pinhead ("Are We Having Fun Yet?"). But in this 200-page memoir, Griffith goes places as a writer and artist that are often astounding to behold.

Invisible Ink sees Griffith investigate his own past, and the central place of his mother's affair with a famous cartoonist/writer during the 1950's and 1960's. Griffith's mother answered an ad placed by that cartoonist, Lawrence Lariar, perhaps best known for his editing work on the Best Cartoons of the Year series that ran from 1942 to 1971. The job develops into an affair that Griffith's mother tells her children about on the day of their father's funeral.

Griffith's cartooning is brilliant throughout, fine-lined and detailed and firmly grounded in the 'real.' He also redraws some of Lariar's cartoons. The history of the affair drives the narrative, but the memoir also deals with Griffith's family history and with Lariar's career. The frame story sees Griffith visiting his uncle (his father's brother) in the present day to talk about his mother and to share the story of the affair with him. It all works beautifully, with a light touch that never uses the various narrative threads for laughs.

Invisible Ink also works as a narrative about 'making it' as a cartoonist -- Lariar pursuit of the Holy Grail of a successful, nationally syndicated strip is one of the historical sub-plots, with Griffith recreating a selection of his attempts, often to intentionally absurd effect as Lariar and his syndicate rework a strip into versions farther and farther away from its original setting and cast of characters.

Griffith's mother nonetheless dominates the text, trapped between a distant husband (sometimes literally -- Griffith's father was a career military man who was often abroad) and an illicit love affair that fulfills her emotionally but which will never be formalized. She's a tragic, stalwart character. And Invisible Ink is a moving, funny, major work of graphic story-telling. Highly recommended.


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