Incidents in the Night by David B. (The Comics Journal)

Incidents-temp-01Last year Uncivilized Books expanded our knowledge of the enigmatic oeuvre of French cartoonist David B. by releasingIncidents in the Night. Although it is the most recent of David B.’s books to be issued in English, Incidents was initially published as three volumes between 1999 and 2002 and is thus older than everything American readers have seen so far except Epileptic, which he worked on more or less simultaneously. Like that more famous book, and indeed all of David B.’s work,Incidents is rich, complex, funny, dark—and very difficult to describe.
The opening at least is straightforward. David B.’s cartoon alter-ego dreams he is in a bookshop looking at paperbacks. He stumbles upon two books, part of a series entitled Incidents in the Night, a collection of fantastic stories based on news snippets of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the set is incomplete: he picks up volumes two and three and then finds the 112th issue. Upon waking, David B. starts scouring the bookshops of Paris for copies, eventually landing in the bookshop of Mr. Lhôm, which he says functions “like an archaeological dig.”
Thus dream gives way to “reality,” but only briefly, as Mr. Lhôm’s bookshop is a fantastical place. One of David B.’s strategies as a cartoonist is to take a verbal image and illustrate it literally, rendering the commonplace weird, funny, mysterious, or jarringly alien.

The Curious Russian Afterlife of Steven Seagal (RIA Novosti)

A Kalder klassik, to coincide with Seagal's announcement he plans to run for governor of Arizona 
Long, long ago – for about 15 minutes – Steven Seagal was a big deal in Hollywood. His movie “Under Siege” made a lot of money. But that was pretty much it. Next came a string of big-budget flops followed by a lengthy and ongoing twilight spent in straight-to-video purgatory.
As for me, I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through a Seagal film. His stiff, tubby frame, extreme humorlessness and mystic posturing make it impossible for me to suspend disbelief. Here in the US he serves as a punch line, part of the flotsam and jetsam of trash culture. Steven Seagal – that’s the washed up ‘90s action movie guy who peddles an aftershave lotion named “Scent of Action,” right?

For Instant Christmas Spirit, Blow Here (RIA Novosti)

A Seasonal Kalder Klassik:

Four years ago, I spent Christmas in Texas for the first time. Shortly beforehand I’d been driving around in the desert out West, and I have vivid memories of the return journey which, late at night, brought me through Johnson City, the birthplace of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Now, Johnson City is a place that nobody needs to visit before they die. But that night it was spectacular. The entire town was illuminated - streets, buildings, front yards, trees and the County Courthouse were all dazzling in the darkness.

I stopped the car to walk around and was immediately struck by the strangeness of thousands of lights representing icicles, snow, and snowmen in a place where it never snows.
In fact, I thought, it probably wasn’t snowing much in Bethlehem when Christ was born either. I could be wrong - the climate has changed a few times over the last 2,000 years, so maybe it was chillier in the Holy Land back then. Nevertheless, given the Eastern origins of Christianity, luminous representations of cacti and fig trees might be more appropriate this time of year.

Since it was my first American Christmas I

Does Putin's New Literary Assembly Bode ill for Russian Writers? (The Guardian)

Pushkin: Not a Belgian
Russia has a long history of revering writers; it also has a long history of censoring, exiling, corrupting and, on occasion, killing writers. The Tsarist and Soviet authorities recognised that the written word was powerful and thus dangerous – a view widely held in the country until the 1990s, when authors suddenly discovered they could write whatever they liked and nobody much cared, the state included.
The era of official disinterest may be coming to a close, however. Last month, Vladimir Putin took time out from his busy schedule wrestling tigers and posing for beefcake snaps to speak at the opening session of Russia's new Literary Assembly. According to news reports, the Kremlin intends it as a replacement for the Union of Russian Writers, itself the replacement for the Union of Soviet Writers, which was established under Stalin in the 1930s, to catastrophic cultural effect. Allegedly, more than 1,000 Russian writers, critics and publishers will participate, with the first official congress slated for the upcoming spring. At the grand opening, Putin – whose own literary tastes include Hemingway and the Persian poet Omar Khayyam – announced plans to make 2015 the "Year of Literature" in Russia, and of getting young people to read more.
That all sounds very noble, but

Review: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Dallas Morning News)

Wee Marx
In his introduction to Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life, Jonathan Sperber stresses that he doesn’t believe Marx was a prophet or that he has much to say to our age at all. He is a historical figure who was acting in a specific context, and his thoughts should be understood that way.
And so the reader might reasonably ask: Why bother reading a 570-page biography?

Russia Bans the Koran (The Guardian)

While Geert Wilders and assorted online provocateurs may like to talk about banning the Koran as an extremist text, few take the idea seriously. Well, except in Russia perhaps, where on September 20th a court in the Russian city of Novorossiysk banned the holy book of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

To be fair, the court banned a Russian translation of the Koran , one of several available in the country. This version, the work of an Azeri theologian named Elmir Kuliyev, was declared illegal for promoting extremism through "statements about the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims”; "negative evaluation of persons who have nothing to do with the Muslim religion"; "positive evaluation of hostile actions by Muslims against non-Muslims", and also, it was argued, inciting violence.

Review: Alejandro Jodorowsky's Pietrolino (The Comics Journal)

PietrolinoSite_originalAlejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most unique creators in comics, drawing upon a biography, range of interests, and incredibly fertile imagination that makes him truly inimitable. His most famous comics work remains The Incal, created in collaboration with Moebius, and frequently reprinted in ever more expensive iterations by Humanoids. It is justifiably revered, a work of science fictional holy madness spawned from the wreckage of Jodorowsky’s equally outrageous Dune movie.
But as great as The Incal and its various spin-offs are, the Jodorowsky comics I enjoy most are probably those set in the “real” world, especially his religious satire/metaphysical farce Madwoman of the Sacred Heart. Whereas in the fantastical world of The Incal everything is possible, in a book like Madwoman (or ultra-violent incest-packed series like Son of the Gun andBorgia), Jodorowsky is constrained by the need to conform to an at least semi-recognizable reality and is thus forced to contain his berserk inventiveness within