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Friday on the Shelf of Shame

Full disclosure: “the Shame Shelf” isn’t actually my expression. I stole it from Betsy Bird, over at School Library Journal, and she in turn got it from Jonathan Auxier.

Here is how Betsy defines it: “Do you have a shame shelf? Which is to say, a shelf of unread books that stare at you in the face, mocking your day-to-day activities until you finally cave and start reading them all at once like some kind of mad librarian? Me too.”

Yeah, me too, although it’s more of a shame nightstand. Mine looks like this…

You know what's REALLY bad? There's a dozen more on the floor propping those up.

Really though, that’s just life with the Hatchers. We acquire books, magazines and paper clutter of all shapes and sizes, constantly. Those books in the photo are just the pile of current frontrunners in Project Read The Damn Books Already, the ongoing effort here to keep up with acquisitions. There’s no actual shame involved.

In fact, there’s more of a quiet gloating. When I was a kid, my parents, who were very outdoorsy athletic sorts, would scold me for being such a voracious reader. It especially appalled them that I would spend all my money on books and comics. Part of it was that Mom thought comics were trashy, but there was a lot of scolding just for the act of reading. “Do you want to be just a bookworm?”

Well, yeah. Duh.

So today when I look at all the books around here, there’s always a fleeting moment of, Hey, Mom? Suck on this. That’s where the entertainment income goes. We even took special trips to buy some of these. What’s more, I get paid to read books and write stuff about it. How d’you like me now?

…Yeah, I’m kind of juvenile sometimes.

Anyway. Lord knows, there are lots of unread books around here that I’ve been meaning to get to for a WHILE now….

Like this one and this one and this one.

Some are comics and some are prose.

And this one and this one.

But the ones that shame me are the ones that I mean to mention in this space and I keep forgetting to do it. So, today, we clear a couple of entries off Hatcher’s Shame Shelf of Procrastinated Plugs.

*

The first one’s been out of print for a long time. The reason I wanted to spend a little time on it here is because it is the solution, of sorts, to a minor literary puzzle that I wondered about back in the early 1980s.

It began with one of the late Byron Press’ earliest efforts to sell the idea of comics-as-a-literary effort, Fiction Illustrated.

Fiction Illustrated was intended to be a series of graphic novels, released quarterly. There were four of them in all, released between January of 1976 and January of 1977.


Will Eisner and Steranko had a famous fight a few years ago over which of them did the first graphic novel. Steranko was basing his claim on CHANDLER, which was pretty funny because it was not the first, but the third, issue of Fiction Illustrated. Anyway, Gil Kane's BLACKMARK beats both Steranko and Eisner for that honor, I think, for all the good it did Kane.

Sadly, the trouble with Fiction Illustrated, like many of the publishing experiments from Byron Press in the 1970s, is that no one was quite sure where the things should be sold or what kind of books they were. The first two were standard digests, like the Archie ones you see at a supermarket checkstand. Then Steranko’s Chandler was released simultaneously as both a digest and as a glossy magazine-sized trade paperback (for the staggering price of $4.95!!!) and finally the fourth, Son of Sherlock Holmes, was released only as a $4.95 trade paperback.

In the afterword to Son of Sherlock Holmes, Preiss teased the fifth Fiction Illustrated, a project called “Dragonworld,” written by Preiss and drawn by Jospeh Zucker. But it never appeared, because the series was canceled.

Well, that’s not quite true. It did appear, a couple of years later. Not as a graphic novel, though, but as a prose novel.

When I saw Dragonworld on bookshelves, I would glance through it and occasionally toy with buying it, but I never got around to it.

Took me a while to get to this one. Like.... uh... thirty years.

I never made the connection with Fiction Illustrated, though, until I acquired Son of Sherlock Holmes a couple of years ago. That tease in the afterword reawakened my interest, and you can find Dragonworld on Amazon for pretty cheap, so I went ahead and ordered one.

And you know, it was pretty good. I probably should have gotten to it sooner, especially since I’ve always liked Michael Reaves’ work.

That all happened in 2008, and I’ve been meaning to tell that story here since then. Probably should have gotten to that sooner, too. So that’s one for the shame shelf.

*

The one that is particularly shaming me at the moment is actually a book that was sent to me for review. Tom Pomplun has been really good about sending along each new volume of his Graphic Classics series as it comes out, and in addition to reviewing each one myself I always try to take them to Cartooning class and see what my seventh graders make of them, and whichever student writes a review gets to keep the book.

Well, Tom sent the latest one a few weeks ago and I’ve been putting off taking it to class.

Why? Because I’m a greedy pig. I can’t bear to part with this one.

Too AWESOME to give away.

Western Classics hits me right where I live.

Because, first of all, it’s a western comic.

Second, it’s a GREAT western comic.

The stories chosen for adaptation are all deserving of the name ‘classic’ — you’ve got Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” illustrated by Cynthia Martin, Robert E. Howard’s “Knife River Prodigal” adapted by Avery and Sellas, a Hopalong Cassidy story illustrated by Dan Spiegle (that’s an especially nice touch since Mr. Spiegle did the Hopalong Cassidy newspaper strip, back in the day)…

….they even lured Al Feldstein out of retirement to do a piece for this. It just rocked my socks from cover to cover.

So I put it off, thinking I’d pick another one up to take to class. And now we have the Olympia Comics Festival coming up, and the close of the school year, and well… we’re not going to have time to do the usual in-class review.

And I can’t bear to wait until next fall to tell you about how awesome this book is. You should go and get it now. I’ll get another copy myself between now and September, and we will get to the in-class review. I promise. He said shamefacedly.

But in the meantime, you should check it out. Because if you pass up something this cool, that would be a shame.

*

And that’s all I’ve got this time out. We may revisit the Shelf of Shame now and again, though, because there’s always new books coming in here, and I never seem to get caught up, so I imagine there will be further entries in the months to come.

See you next week.

20 Comments

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 7, 2011 at 12:22 am

You know what’s REALLY bad? There’s a dozen more on the floor propping those up.

PHEW!

I was scared my unread pile was waaaay bigger than yours.

Due to mass discounts due to Free Comic Book day, I got that Creeper collection, but I’m determined it won’t end up on there.

My problem with my unread book piles, is that if a book stays on there for a month or more, it almost seems tainted in my eyes – even if I know I’m going to love it.

i got tons of comic books floating around my apartment i haven’t read yet.

1 long box stuffed to almost exploding full of old one-dollar-bin books at the local shops, i always grab a few that catch my interest when i shop thinking oh sure i’ll read these this weekend, then they end up in that box. it’s fully stuffed normally with the comics upright packed in plus a few short stacks on top of those.

i’ve got one short box full of the current stuff i buy each week waiting to be read. like some people ‘trade-wait’, i wait to get all 5 or 6 or however many issues of a storyline then read them all at once.

i’ve got a mini stack of trades next to my bed that was about 3 feet high a few months ago but i’ve been finally getting around to reading alot of those recently. now it’s only about 6 inches.

i’ve got a few scattered boxes laying all around my room with various full series i’ve yet to read. like all the Marvel Knights & Elektra issues from several years back i finally have copies of each issue, just need to get around to actually reading them.

then i’ve got my boxes of “series i’m working on” that i’ve decided i want to read & am currently buying issues of over time, titles like Nova, Ex Machina & Preacher that have ended. i won’t even start to read any of those until i have them all. …eventually, lol.

non comic stuff i’ve got about 3 years’ worth of Smithsonian, Scientific American, Maxim & Psychology Today magazines that i’ve subscribed to and always end up in piles when i get them in the mail. only a few actual books laying here & there.

Travis Pelkie

May 7, 2011 at 5:04 am

Oh, thank the lord, I’m not the only one with massive piles of books and comics. It’s not so much shame as what you say, “read the damn books already!”

And then I keep getting more and more…What’s wrong with me?!?

There was a guy on the mailing list I’m on named Lal who has over 300 unread books (at last count). Ever since then, any unread pile of books has been known as a Lalpile.

How strange to wake up and find my wife (and our friend Jonathan) front and center in your column.

Now I have to go out and buy some of those books you haven’t read.

How strange to wake up and find my wife (and our friend Jonathan) front and center in your column.

Least I could do. Your bride’s blog is always a treat, and I am very flattered whenever she mentions the road trips. (Since I’m certain she has at least ten times our readership here, I’m sure Jonah also appreciates the spike it gives us.) It always makes me sit up and say HUH when she mentions my friend Mitali, though; before Mitali got to be all famous and stuff we both used to work for WITH magazine (back when there was one, sigh.) I don’t think the world of YA books is quite as tiny as comics, but that was a small-world moment for sure. In fact it was Mitali that pointed me to Betsy’s blog in the first place.

There was a guy on the mailing list I’m on named Lal who has over 300 unread books (at last count).

Oh, God, I would never let it get THAT out of control. I think it’s between twenty and thirty at the moment. The thing that annoys me is when there’s a new book here that I want to read and I can’t remember which pile it’s in. There’s a small stack in the living room and a couple of HUGE stacks in the office– the office piles are usually the ones from road trips because I want to refer to them for a bookscouting column, and sometimes I forget to move them back into the nightstand rotation. Right now I can’t seem to lay my hands on this one, also a Byron Preiss project as it turns out. I know it’s here… I got as far as the introduction, then I set it down and I can’t remember where…. Grrrr. It’ll turn up, but it was the one I wanted NEXT, you know? Oh well…

I, too, have dozens and dozens of unread books, some which sit around for years. And will probably continue to do so– I don’t read prose very much anymore, apparently. I’m too busy dicking around on the internet.

And then there are the dozens of comics I haven’t gotten to yet, either. Hell, I’ve had copies of Black Hole and 300 sitting around for years at this point, too, not to mention thirty-some issues of ROM calling to me (though I’d like to finish out the run first before I jump into those).

And then there’s all those half-formed blog posts of mine cluttering up the Drafts folder. Those are really shameful.

My shell of shame is small next to yours. I usually have 3-6 books waiting to be read, no more. When I realize I’m accumulating too much, I just stop buying until I read what I got already. It helps that I’m not made of money. The temptation to buy lots and lots of books every single day is always there, but not the coin.

Well, when I get rich, I will have a huge, overflowing LIBRARY OF SHAME. I dream of it. It will be magnificent.

My parents weren’t athletic, but yeah, they were extrovert types, and I felt they too considered me a bit weird for reading so much. Particularly because my brother was the athletic one. Well, my revenge is that, as an adult, I discovered weight-lifting, running, and bycicling, while my brother just got fat.

God, I want that Creeper book… through I’m happy to say I have two of the Fiction Illustrated books: Chandler (digest) and Starfawn. Chandler I’ve read, Starfawn is still on my personal shelf of shame.
And you’ve sold me on that Western Classics book, even though I’m usually not big on Westerns. But man, that round-up of talent, plus the stories being adapted, sounds great. By the way, which Willa Cather story is included?

By the way, which Willa Cather story is included?

El Dorado. Script by Rich Rainey, art by John Findley.

Oh, great, complete and utter internet fail. All I had to do was click the second link… And yes, that looks like a really nice package – I just hope that once I get around to buying it, it doesn’t end up on my shelf of shame.
By the way, you correctly mentioned Kane’s Blackmark (which I also have, both the original and the Fantagraphics reprint!) as pre-dating both Chandler and Eisner’s graphic novels of the 70s, but didn’t Kane’s own “His Name is Savage” come even before that? And no disrespect to Eisner, Kane or Steranko, but I know a lot of folks consider “It Rhymes with Lust” the first graphic novel…

His Name Is Savage and It Rhymes with Lust certainly are both contenders. It depends who you ask. The reason I give it to Blackmark is because it was marketed as an actual book. Savage was a magazine and It Rhymes With Lust was more of a comics digest.

But at least that point can be argued. The thing that made Eisner and Steranko’s fight (which got rather heated at one point) so embarrassing and awkward is because they were both so spectacularly wrong. Neither one of them was close to being first.

Greg,
I’ve been reading and enjoying this blog for a while now (Matt Bird recommended it to me) so it was a special treat to log on and discover my name! I wish I could tell you where the term “shame shelf” came from. I’ve been using it for years and undoubtedly stole it from a much smarter friend. Since starting to write comics (I did a Top Cow series last year) my shame shelf has runneth over with free books from publishers. I’m not complaining, but my wife has now introduced a one-in one-out policy for comics — which means that before I could bring Axe Cop though the door, I had to give away some old copies of Man Thing. Grrr.

You’re not the first man whose wife made him give up his Man-Thing, Jonathan, and you won’t be the last.

Once again Greg, you set me up to make me buy something. (Reading this column gets expensive some times.) I’m gonna have to pick up that Western Classics book down the line.

Of course, I have a stack beside my bed to make that thing pale by comparison. Probably 2 dozen graphic novels, another 2 dozen novels, and that’s not counting the entire bookshelf in our bedroom, almost all of which I haven’t read. The only books on it I have read are the first seven Wild Cards novels, and they’re on there so I can read ‘em again.

Join the club, Nick. I think a running “complaint” in the comment threads to Greg’s columns is how expensive it can be for those of us who read it. I have to say, though, that anything I ended up buying based on Greg’s recommendations has always been well worth it.

Hey, Nick.

Always cool to meet another Wild Cards fan.

I have all the novels in the series, and have read most of them more than once.

Oh geez.

I currently have 42 1/2 SF/Fantasy magazines to read, between the past 2-3 years of Analog, Asimov’s SF, Realms of Fantasy, and Science and Fantasy Fiction. Then there’s the 20 some odd FCBD books I got yesterday. Then there’s about 8 novels I haven’t read floating around the house.

And I have no idea what other comics I have that I haven’t gotten around to reading quite yet. I’m sure there’s some from last Christmas I haven’t gotten to.

My unread pile{s} consist mainly of Conspiracy Books. What goes better w/ comics? Conspiracies aren’t just for NUTZ anymore. Gas prices. Middle-East machinations. I was knocked over by Marvel’s Civil War. It mirrored the U.S. reaction after 9/11. Whose side where YOU on? Axis of Evil? Stan Lee could of come up w/ that. The Hero’s were watching FIX NEWS where “WE put our thoughts in YOU”.

Holy smokes, there’s new Al Feldstein stuff out?!!!! Hooray!

When I moved in to my current apartment, I brought only books I hadn’t read, in order to encourage me to get to them.

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