For Instant Christmas Spirit, Blow Here

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?

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 Putin was speaking to a room severely lacking in literary talent, as practically no respected Russian authors accepted his invitation to attend the event. Boris Akunin, the pen-name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, whose literary detective stories have sold millions of copies, was fairly scathing on his blog, writing: 

Review: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber

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

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

Vanishing Act: How Lou Reed Did Death (The Dabbler)


Although he may not have racked up the body count of a Nick Cave or Johnny Cash, the late Lou Reed sang about death more often than many a popular musician. Indeed, he did it often enough that what I originally thought would be a single piece examining how his approach to the subject of mortality mutated over his creative career has become a two-parter, of which this is the first. So let’s get down to business; the business of singing about death, that is.

The Strange World of Your Dreams (The Comics Journal)

14b11daa29b787d9d1bb890702690c60_xl“Comics are more like dreams than any other medium,” says “comics archaeologist” Craig Yoe in his introduction to The Strange World of Your Dreams, the latest book issued through his imprint at IDW. I am not sure about that grand claim; I have read the same thing said about movies, and no doubt many Surrealists thought paint and canvas was a pretty good way to capture the slippery nature of our experiences in the night-world. There can be no doubt however that dreams have provided copious subject matter and a fertile source of imagery for cartoonists throughout the history of the medium.
One example is The Strange World of Your Dreams itself, a collection of four very odd dream-themed comic books (plus some bonus materials) produced over sixty years ago by the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Setting the scene for this peculiar material in his introduction, Yoe discusses the lineage of dream comics up to that point, including the early dream comics of Winsor McCay, not to mention less well-known efforts such as Joe Kubert’s Danny Dreams strip. More dream comics would follow, such as Nightmask from Marvel’s New Universe, Rick Veitch’s very personal Rare Bit Fiends, and of course that thing Neil Gaiman did in the ’90s. Best of all are Jim Woodring’s dream comics, sadly abandoned so he could

Turkmenistan: Proudly Maintaining the Tradition of Dictator Literature (Publishing Perspectives)

A giant copy of Ruhnama dominates the skyline of

At the dawn of this century, the late and unlamented dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov became a favorite of news editors hungry for weird stories to fill column inches. Styling himself Turkmenbashi, “the Father of All Turkmen,” the eccentric dictator imposed a series of seemingly arbitrary whims upon his post-Soviet populace, famously banning (for instance) gold teeth and ballet dancing. Turkmenbashi also basked in a personality cult that put Stalin’s to shame. A narcissist of world-historic proportions, he renamed the month of January after himself, and insisted that everyone use his mother’s name, Gurbansoltan Eje, when referring to what had been referred to in earlier, less enlightened times, as “bread.”

Timur Gareev: Zen Master of Blindfold Chess (RIA Novosti)

Austin, Texas, October 9 (RIA Novosti) – A motorbike-riding, parachute-jumping recent attendee at Nevada’s Burning Man festival who counts the illusionists David Copperfield and Harry Houdini among his heroes, Timur Gareev admits he is not your typical chess grandmaster:

‘I’d say I’m like an explorer,” the 25-year-old from Uzbekistan says. “It’s like a novelty for the chess world. I’m not trying to be that way, I just am that way.”

Waco: What Happened Next (Esquire Magazine)

Twenty years ago, in rural Texas, 53 adults and 23 children were incinerated after a firefight with the FBI. The tiny sect of the Branch Davidians, and its charismatic leader David Koresh, was suddenly world famous. And, dead. Or was it? 20 years on Daniel Kalder revisits Mt Carmel, the notorious “cult compound” nine 9 miles east of Waco, and finds the Davidians reborn, and awaiting a fresh apocalypse…

David B., Master Cartoonist (The Dabbler)

Cartoonist David B. is ‘an exceptionally gifted artist who…reveals hidden truths inexpressible in another medium’. Quite a claim – but what think you?
In earlier installments of these BD reviews I have tended to focus on psychedelic science fiction, the bizarre, or indeed the barely coherent. I like that type of stuff, since I prefer comics that remain rooted in the disreputable origins of the medium while going much farther creatively. By contrast most of the “graphic novels” that get reviewed in the Guardian bore me: far too polite, lacking in violence and bad taste, cravenly begging to be allowed to sit at the master’s table alongside Ian McEwan novels. Yawn. 
However it’s not all lunacy all the time round my house, and today I am highlighting an exceptionally gifted artist who even the most words + pictures resistant Dabblers might enjoy.

Canonizing Russian Literature for the World (Publishing Perspectives)

At 125 volumes, “The Russian Library” seeks to establish a Russian literary canon by offering the books in English to be read by the world.
Peter Mayer developed a love of Russian literature simply by "reading it."
Former Penguin CEO and current Overlook publisher Peter Mayer has loved Russian literature for decades. Last June, following Russia’s turn as Country Focus at BookExpo America, he announced what is the culmination of this career-long fascination, The Russian Library, a colossal 125 volume series of translated fiction, poetry and drama to be published over the next ten years.
On first hearing the phrase, The Russian Library brings to mind the epic, multi-volume series dedicated to specific authors that were published in the Soviet Union. No educated person’s home was complete without shelves that groaned under the collected works of Lenin, Tolstoy or Dickens. With this tradition of Russian mega-sets, the casual reader might think that Overlook’s series is an adaptation of something that exists in the motherland. Not at all, says Peter Mayer, The Russian Library is something completely new and unheralded.

End Times Scenarios from Non-Abrahamic Religions (The Catholic Herald)

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably very scared. The world is about to end - on December 21st to be exact. No Christmas Turkey for you. Sorry, but it’s a fact: the Mayans said so.  How did they know? Oh, something about calendars.

On the other hand, perhaps the world won’t end. I mean, it’s had so many opportunities already and-nothing doing. Why should the Mayans know more about the End Times than David Koresh anyway? Experts on Mesoamerica pour scorn on the apocalypse of 2012, just as St. Augustine rejected the claims of prophets 1500 years ago.

Surprising Catholic Converts (The Catholic Herald)

The most influential figures in the history of Catholicism have been converts. I think we can agree that Saint Paul, Saint Augustine and the Emperor Constantine are all pretty important guys, but not one of them was born into the church. In the UK likewise some of the most prominent Catholics started their spiritual journey elsewhere- Cardinal Newman, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Malcolm Muggeridge and Graham Greene for instance. Recently we have seen a certain T. Blair cross over to Rome, and he may even have given the Pope some friendly advice, helpful chap that he is.  But there are many lower profile cases of conversion, and that list has some surprising names on it….

A Hit Man at 13 (The Spectator)

WOODVILLE, TEXAS: After a long wait in the visiting room of the maximum security wing of the “Gib Lewis Unit” Rosalio Reta finally arrived for our interview. Framed in the doorway, he looked about five feet tall, but projected an air of menace. The demonic face tattoos helped. That face was the last thing many people saw before they died, I thought. When he started talking, his voice was soft and mellifluous. He had dimples.

Until his arrest in 2006 Reta was a sicario, a hit man responsible for at least 30 murders in the USA and Mexico. He started at the age of 13, when he executed a man as an audition to join the Zetas, the paramilitary wing of the Gulf Cartel. His fluent Spanish and American citizenship meant he could operate on either side of the border without attracting attention. Reta boasted to police that he enjoyed killing: “I volunteered. ‘Me, me, me, me, I’ll kill them!’” Killing made him feel “like Superman.” He enjoyed the “James Bond game” of tracking his prey. This is why I wanted to interview him: you don’t meet such openly enthusiastic killers very often.